I am one of those fans that Woody Allen must hate, because the news of a new film of his fills me with dread. My conversations are peppered with quotes from Sleeper and Take the Money and Run, and I can and will recite entire passages from Love and Death (Sonja: I guess you could say I’m half-whore, half-saint. Boris: Here’s hoping I get the half that eats!) His early classics (everything pre-1990) hold up amazingly well and are still as fresh and funny as the day they first appeared. But expecting his current films to be like the old ones is unfair to Woody and unrealistic as well – no artist wants to keep revisiting work they created some twenty-five year ago. And interestingly (and probably not coincidentally), this theme shows up in his newest film, Midnight in Paris.
Owen Wilson is the latest actor to take on the role that Woody has aged himself out of, the befuddled misfit around whom all the action centers. Although Owen is far less of a nebbish than Woody ever was, he handles the part well and his boyish charm makes him a sympathetic character. Which is good, because his fiancé, in-laws and friends are such stereotypical caricatures of ugly Americans that it’s a relief when he somehow ends up in Paris of the 1920s. There is no magic time travel involved to accomplish this; the clock simply strikes twelve and somehow he is back in time, mingling with Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and getting writing advice from Hemingway. I thought it was a little lazy of Woody to not even try to come up with a reason he had traveled back ninety years – even Bill and Ted had a magic phone booth to explain their wacky adventures.
As a screenwriter-turned-novelist set loose in the golden age of literature, Woody …um, Owen, finds himself enthralled with the enormous talent and personalities that populated that era. Gertrude Stein takes a liking to him and his book and Owen falls in love with a lovely French woman who is Picasso’s mistress. Eventually, the two of them go even further back to the turn of the century (again without a phone booth or a Delorian), and the mistress wants to stay in that era where such geniuses as Toulouse Lautrec and Degas are discussing their art. She is as enamored of this time period as Owen was of the twenties, and he realizes that the past always seems better because the present is messy and difficult and harder to navigate, but that it’s important to move on because creativity requires change. Or something like that – I might have dozed off for a moment there. But it seemed like Woody Allen was saying directly to me, “I’m not going to remake Annie Hall, so get over it.”
The real star of this movie is the city of the title; much the way Manhattan was a love song to NYC. The opening montage of Paris is breathtaking, and the many postcard shots of iconic views are liberally mixed with tiny side streets that sparkle in the rain. This script might have simply been a good excuse for Woody Allen to spend a few months in the City of Lights, and you really can’t blame him for that.
Barf Bag rating: Zero Stars I suspect that the more barfable movies of the summer will not start showing up until the Sundance Film festival winners are in theatres; those indie directors are really into hand-held. The problem is that I’ve become complacent, and when one does come along, it’s going to knock me on my ass.
One thought on “Midnight in Paris”
Ya, Woody got lazy on this one. Plus he tried to make a film that would secretly appeal to everyone while only appealing to eng lit. majors (or those well read). A sort of double fake out, FAIL.