5/29/12: Midnight in Paris

“It is a good film because it is an honest film. The prose is clean and honest.”

Woody Allen wrote & directed Midnight in Paris, an intellectual comedy starring Owen Wilson as Gil Pender (in the role Woody would have played himself as a younger man), a self-described “Hollywood hack” writer finalizing his first novel. He’s on vacation in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams from amongst other things The Notebook). Gil is an uber-liberal who wants to take a cut in pay & live the simpler life of a novelist in Paris once his book is published. Whether in the rain or shine, Paris is to him the most beautiful city in the world. And it’s pre-Depression luster and hotbed for the literati of the time – Hemingway, F.Scott Fitgerald, Gertrude Stein, Dali, T.S. Eliot, Picasso, Cole Porter, etc. – is the pinnacle in human achievement.

The couple is traveling with Inez’ parents. Her father (played wonderfully by Kurt Fuller) is a staunch Tea Party member who’s managed to instill the GOP’s “success is measured by money” mantra in his daughter. And her constant belittling of Gil make her very unlikable, especially when juxtaposed to her loveable, knowledge-thirsty fiancé. She thinks he’s childish for wanting to follow his muse and move from L.A. to Paris. They soon run into Paul & his wife. He’s one of Inez’ college professors for whom she still has the hots. Paul is characterized brilliantly by Michael Sheen (best known for his great performance as Tony Blair in The Queen) as a condescending, pseudo-intellectual expert on everything, and the mechanism for some predictable plot twists is in place. But don’t be discouraged: Woody’s story follows an unprecedentedly unique literary labyrinth. So it won’t hurt to have a laptop or smart phone around to help defog some of the more abstruse references.

The film received four nominations at 84th Oscars in 2012: Art Direction (watch for the yellow color scheming throughout the movie), Director, and Best Picture; and Woody Allen took home the prize for Original Screenplay. The script is fantastic and in 2012, one of the finest Oscar years ever, Woody’s third Original Screenplay Oscar (Annie Hall and Hannah & Her Sisters) is very well deserved indeed! He won one more Academy Award – Best Director for Annie Hall. He has never accepted an Oscar in person. Co-writer Marshall Brickman accepted for Annie Hall in 1978 at the Golden Anniversary Ceremony, and each of the other 3 were accepted by the presenter, including Angelina Jolie for Midnight in Paris. He’s also been nominated for an unbelievable 19 additional Academy Awards. Owen Wilson was nominated for one Oscar: Original Screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums.

The music in Paris is simply fantastic. That the score wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award is a tragic error. The Artist won the Oscar and, though the music in that film is great and paramount given its verbal silence, it compares as favorably as the local guitar & violin accompanists for The Gold Rush would have to Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli themselves. The soundtrack is woven together by a theme piece – quickly recognizable as one of Django’s classic gypsy jazz tunes. But hold on & get out that Android! It’s not Reinhardt at all: It’s the film’s composer Stephane Wrembel’s Bistro Fada – a fabulous tribute to the great master. The non-original music in the soundtrack is wonderful as well, and includes works by Porter, Glenn Miller, Django, The Duke, Josesphine Baker, and on & on (http://www.allobo.com/en/soundtrack-midnight-in-paris-2352.html).

Midnight in Paris, one of ten feature films nominated for Oscars in 2012 with a French connection, is the first Woody Allen movie to gross $100 million internationally, believe it or not. And though it’s ripe with cameos, the most interesting to me is Carla Bruni, the then First Lady of France in her acting debut, who plays a curator at Paris’ Rodin Museum. Her only other movie role is as herself in the 1998 comedy Paparazzi. Bruni is the third wife of Nicolas Sarkozy who was the French President through May 15, 2012.

Midnight is a wonderful, high-brow comedy about discovering true love for life, art & your soulmate. It questions the validity of romanticizing other places & settings by romanticizing them and, ironically, showing just how romantic & elevated they are by comparison to today’s idly idolatristic American Idol America. And in the end, Woody leaves it to the viewer to decide if there is anything to be gained by living your life vicariously through the art of days gone by. And he seems to say that maybe it’s not the time or place but your lover that enriches your life romantically, spiritually & intellectually. And with that person, you’ll find peace & balance and love & happiness. And I couldn’t agree with that sentiment more. Perhaps he was so satisfied with his most recent piece – one of the best of his illustrious career – that looking back on his earlier work and the art & literature of days of yore seems nostalgic & pointless. Of course, that’s easy for him to say: He was on the Annie Hall media circuit during the Grateful Dead’s historic Spring East Coast ’77 Tour!


3 thoughts on “5/29/12: Midnight in Paris

  1. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this movie! So glad you blogged it because I might not have watched it otherwise. Owen Wilson SO reminded me of young Woody Allen. I totally identified with Gil as I spent most of my high school and college years living vicariously though dead writers, musicians and artists. Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” fascinated me and F. Scott Fitzgerald has always been a particular favorite of mine. Used to work at a Yale library that displayed some of Gertrude Stein’s furnishings from Paris too. The character of Paul was so pompous! He drove me nuts. I know people like that and dutifully roll my eyeballs every time they speak. Got a BIG kick out of the deliberate mispronunciations and over-pronunciations of worlds like “Versailles” too.

  2. Ya well I still do live vicariously though dead writers, musicians and artists. It’s OK to admit it. Very few people ready these Blogs anyway. And thanks for the encouragement.

    I think 2011 was the best year in film since perhaps ’88. Midnight in Paris is a Top 10.

  3. Oh, my dead idols are still very much with me as i know yours are. But when we’re young and still figuring out who we are, I think we are more prone to vicarious living through them. As we age, we take what we learn from our favorite musicians, writers, and artists and it becomes a part of who we are and we are more authentic. For example, when I was a kid, John Lennon was my big hero. I’d listen to his music, read books about him, and I was fascinated by the way he used his celebrity to speak out against things like the Vietnam War. I thought he was the coolest guy on earth (ok, still do but may have added a few more to that group). Now, at 45, I’m less into hero worship and more into living my own life and incorporating the things I learned from my idols into my own personal philosophy.

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