Thursday, December 22, 2011
Day 22: Midnight in Paris
"You can fool me but you cannot fool Ernest Hemingway!"
Woody Allen has made a movie a year since 1971. One would think that when you're on to your 40th consecutive movie, you'd have lost a little something, but Woody always knows what he needs to revitalize things. In 2005 he went to England and shot Match Point and created his best movie in a decade. Similarly this past year he went to France and shot Midnight in Paris, creating his best movie since Match Point, and more likely, since Bullets Over Broadway.
Owen Wilson plays Gil a screenwriter working on his first novel while on vacation with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) in Paris. On a lonely night when his fiancee goes off dancing with some friends, Gil takes a stroll, gets lost, and at the stroke of midnight, he's whisked into an antique car and taken to a party filled with people dressed like they're living in the 1920s. Gil has actually been transported back in time and here meets Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Alison Pill & Tom Hiddleston) whom he befriends and in turn introduce him to Ernest Hemingway (the sensational Corey Stoll). When discussing his own novel with his hero, Hemingway suggests he show his manuscript to his friend Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). At Stein's he meets Pablo Picasso and his lover at the time Adriana (Marion Cotillard) with whom he becomes immediately smitten. He makes nightly trips to the 20s in an attempt to connect romantically with Adriana.
Gil has romanticized Paris of the 20s in his mind, and now that he's face to face with it, he sees it as just as ideal as he imagined. However through his conversations with Adriana, he discovers that she wishes she were living during the Belle Epoque time period at the turn of the century. When a carriage takes Gil and Adriana back in time to that period late in the film, they meet Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas & Gauguin who wish they were living in the Renaissance. Gil sees the folly of actual wish-granting and the power of nostalgia, and learns a lesson when he finally returns to his own time.
The film is fantastic with one major exception and that is the character of Inez. There is no earthly reason that I can see that would make Gil want to stay engaged to her. She's very clearly smitten with another man, the pedantic Paul (Michael Sheen) and treats Gil like shit at almost every opportunity. The film falls to pieces whenever the plot centers around any time spent in the present with Gil and Inez. Making her actually nice or having something in common with Gil would have made his decision of whether or not to break off his engagement more dramatic. Making her a one-dimensional shrew infuriated me and made at least a third of the film borderline insufferable.
The scenes in the 20s however are some of Allen's best work ever. A chance meeting between Gil and Dali, Bunuel and Man Ray is the highlight of the film. Adrien Brody is phenomenal as Salvador Dali whose current obsession is with rhinoceroses. This scene was hysterically funny and great to watch. Equally fantastic was the aforementioned Corey Stoll as Hemingway. Hemingway has all the best lines in the film, as to be expected, and Stoll plays him exactly how you imagine him to have been in real life.
The relationship that evolves between Gil and Adriana is very good and roots the film in an emotional core that it's lacking in the modern day scenes. The film is whimsical and finds Allen as sharp as he's ever been, and casting Wilson as his surrogate in the film was a brilliant move. Owen Wilson has a laconic manner that suits his predicament in the film well. If he had been a mensch like the typical Woody Allen protagonist, it likely would have added an unnecessary tension to the time travel aspect of the film. Wilson is so laid back that he just rolls with things as opposed to trying to talk his way out of the whole thing or reason with himself. It's a welcome change of pace and makes the film work all the more as a result.
Woody Allen will continue making a film a year until he can't anymore, I just hope we don't have to wait another six years for him to find something new and interesting to do. This is a master working at the top of his game.
Tomorrow I'll get back around to Doctor Dolittle. I tried watching it yesterday but turned it off after about 20 minutes. I'll give it another go tonight.