Paris has earned the reputation as “The City of Love”. Some research on the topic created some interesting tidbits that I’d like to share. This blog summed it up better than I could. But to paraphrase a section from that post, towards the end of the 19th Century France was in decline, Britain, Germany and the US were on the rise. At this point, France decided to not screw around with things like world power, military might, and national income, and become the haven for artists of all shapes and forms. Writers, artists, and even architects flocked to Paris at the time. In fact, it was among the two World Fairs held at the time (1878 and 1889) that saw the completion of some of the most beautiful buildings in Paris, including the Eiffel Tower.
This notion of The City of Love carried over when artists started using film cameras. From then on movies such as Casablanca, An American in Paris, and Paris When it Sizzles, to newer films like Paris Je T’aime, and Before Sunset have always shown Paris as that place where people would run of to in order to live in blissful romance forever. Now, I went to Paris last year, and while I was in awe with the city’s beauty, there wasn’t anything uniquely romantic about it. Yes, the Eiffel Tower is an amazing work of architectural art, but I felt as much romantic tension than I did when I saw the Roman Coliseum. That was, until I saw Midnight in Paris.
Midnight in Paris did something to me that many romantic movies couldn’t, it made me want to fall in love. Woody Allen has always been one of my favorite directors because of his understanding of real people and of the medium of film. He is one of the few people who could take premises otherwise destined for cheesy, sappy, typical romantic movies, and turn them into something that everybody could enjoy. This movie is a shining example of that. I’d like to review it for you, but the fact is that I can’t. I loved this film too much. I’ve gone way beyond biased with this move, so I’m not even going to try. So I’m just going to tell you why I recommend this movie to you.
From this point on, please read at your own risk, because there may be some SPOILERS throughout the post.
Midnight in Paris follows the story of a struggling writer named Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson), who with his fiancee, Inez (played by Rachel McAdams) and her parents, goes on vacation in Paris. Gil is a successful Hollywood screenwriter who wants to write a meaningful novel. He’s a man who is often stuck in the past, feeling like someone who should have been around in the 1920′s, often quoting writers and artists of that era and hoping to be like them. One night, in a bit of a drunken daze, he stumbles through the streets of Paris. He eventually finds himself at the steps of a church, and at the stroke of midnight, a 1920′s automobile pulls up, and the people inside invite him into the car. Over the course of the night, he meets F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife, Zelda, and Ernest Hemingway, and spends the night picking the brains of these writers whom he believes represented the golden era of literature.
As the day breaks, he finds himself back in modern-day Paris and becomes possessed in trying to make his way back. He brings back his manuscript the next day, and talks to Gertrude Stein, who was Hemingway’s publisher, and while there meets Adriana (played by Marion Cotillard), whom he develops a connection with. Over the course of the film he finds himself at wits end between his “real” relationship with Inez, and his romantic feelings for Adriana, all the while, he comes to grips with what his newfound ability to seemingly travel through time.
Pardon the long summary, but this movie had way too much going on for me to shorten in such a fashion. Now I’d like to tell you why I loved this movie so much.
Reasons to Watch:
1) The Themes
The discussion of nostalgia is amazing. I love how this movie expresses its views on this “flawed notion that people believe a past era in time was much better than the times we live in today.” This is something that many of us are guilty of, and many of us still believe. Even if you’re not one of those people who wished they lived in the 20′s, or even if you didn’t wish you were around to see the Beatles perform live (I’m one of those people by the way), I’m sure you’ve felt it. I mean, raise your hands if you miss the 90′s and in some ways think it superior to the 2000′s.
This movie takes on that argument on a whole new level, by telling the story of a guy who gets to go into the past and experience that golden age. I won’t delve too much into this, because the movie tackles it better than I could, but it suffices to say that this is a movie that lets you learn more about yourself, and about the human condition, and its rare to find a film that does that in a fashion as entertaining as this.
There’s also the secondary theme of love, romantic vs. real love. I love that I can say that love is the secondary theme, and that alone is a commentary of where love is in the lives of these people. Its there, its present, but it isn’t the main conflict. Brilliant choice of story-telling by Woody Allen. The film takes you into twists and turns romantically, to the point that Midnight would give you 4 women for Gil to potentially end up with, and you wouldn’t be able to tell, up until the last moment, who it might be. Midnight tackles love in a way that doesn’t flat out lecture you on what it should be, but gives you a beautiful painting of the concept of romantic love, and leaves the conclusions up to you. Sorry, this is quite the vague answer, but it is quite the vague theme as well, so hopefully this made some kind of sense. Lets go on to less conceptual and philosophical matters, shall we?
2) The Dialogue
Like I even need to delve into this. If there is one thing anyone should know about Woody Allen is that the man writes exquisite dialogue. He’ll take modern day speech and use it in a way that you’ve never heard before. His scripts can express almost any notion, and Midnight was a shining example of that. The dialogue drove the movie, more than anything else. It was the stand-out of the entire film. The dialogue is the MVP of this movie, it makes everything else around it so much better. I could even stomach Owen Wilson’s acting, and found him rather enjoyable as a character for the first time in a very long time. The dialogue led the pacing of the movie, or at least the pacing depended on the dialogue. The characters, the setting, it was all tied in into what the people were saying.
Don’t even get me started on the words that Allen had given to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and with the surrealist Salvador Dali. He captured these people so well, not through any biopic or narration, but through the way they talked and the content of their speech. Hemingway’s astute observations and Dali’s seemingly random ramblings, and the Fitzgerald couple’s lust for life were all brought to remarkable life that was breathed in through the words they had spoken. What else can I say? The dialogue was near perfect.
Despite being mostly talk, this movie had me more captivated than I’ve been in a long time. A lot of it was in the movie’s pacing. Midnight in Paris never had me once look at my watch. That is a huge determination whether or not I love a movie. I was so enthralled by the film, that I couldn’t keep my eyes away. Its not easy for dialogu hookee to keep med, even Woody Allen failed to keep me hooked on Vicky Christina Barcelona, but in Midnight in Paris, he hit it out of the mother freaking ballpark.
3) The Atmosphere
I loved the atmosphere of this movie. The setting of Paris, and the depictions of the 1920′s artistic Paris as well felt oddly unified in this movie. The film, despite having a time-travelling element, felt like one cohesive unit, as if, this 1920′s spirit was very much a part of modern day Paris. The transitions were so seamless, and the characters reactions as well as the dialogue kept the two worlds somehow connected. Yes the people in the 1920′s spoke differently, and the clothes were different, and so on and so forth, but Woody Allen told such an amazing story that it just worked, it all tied in perfectly.
I’d be wrong if I didn’t give credit to the rest of the crew for this. I’m sure that the set design, sound, the costumes, cinematography and editing all tied in in order to create this effect and make the story flow. But I can’t isolate one reason for it working, this film just had a unity to it, everything fit into place to tell this story, and it told it really well. I’d chalk this up a lot to the fact that it was both written and directed by Allen, so he could have total creative control over the project.
This is a movie I recommend to high heavens. It takes you into this world of Paris and shows you the romantic and artistic side from a viewpoint that has rarely been explored. Its a movie that takes love and nostalgia, and articulates them in words, the likes of which I’ve never heard before. I watch movies to experience something new, and honestly, it is quite rare when a movie does that for me. This one definitely did, and I’m thinking you’d like it too.