Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Midnight in Paris

            Since 1969, Woody Allen has been making films at the rate of about one per year. While the writer/director/actor has gone through ups and downs in work, there is always something to appreciate in his movies. His latest offering is Midnight in Paris, which opened this year’s Cannes Film Festival to acclaim, and is a whimsical delight of a movie which reminds us what an Allen film is all about.
            Midnight in Paris takes the standard Allen format of a comedy featuring a pessimistic neurotic and adds other elements he has employed in past films such as the fantasy elements of The Purple Rose of Cairo and the love letter to a city as in Manhattan, substituting Paris for New York. The movie stars Owen Wilson in the Woody Allen role as a self-described hack screenwriter who has dreams of being a respected novelist. He is currently on vacation in The City of Lights with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) whose Republican parents are with them and in the city on business.
For the pessimist we expect from Wilson’s character, he is surprisingly engaged by Paris, eagerly taking in the sights and even talking of relocating there. We get a window into his person when we hear him talk of how he longs for the Paris of the 1920s and also of how the lead character in his novel runs a nostalgia shop. While out one night on the town, Wilson decides to depart from his wife and her boorish intellectual friends and wander the streets alone. He takes a seat on a set of stairs and as soon as the clock strikes twelve, an old fashioned car pulls in front of him with revelers beckoning him to get in.
He takes there ride and is taken to a bar that seems to be just like the swinging 20s joint he’s dreamed of. There he finds Cole Porter playing the piano, makes acquaintances with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who in turn introduces him to Ernest Hemingway and Dorothy Parker. After awhile he is returned to his present day, but continues to revisit this magical place night after night. As his relationship with his fiancée continues to become more argumentative and he takes up with a beautiful mistress of Pablo Picasso, he must now decide which reality he wants to live in.
Midnight in Paris is a wonderful film which can be appreciated by anyone but it is a special treat for Allen fans. The film is whimsical and funny, and Allen does a great job creating scenarios with what I’m assuming are his heroes from the 1920s (I loved how Owen Wilson gives Luis Bunuel the plot idea for The Exterminating Angel and Bunuel doesn’t get it).  Wilson proves to be a great stand-in for Allen, capturing the neuroses while still maintaining a sense of wonder with Paris and the new world he has discovered. Much like the feeling Wilson’s character gets when transported back to the Paris of the 20s is the same feeling I get when sitting in the theater and that jazz music begins to play over the white and black opening credits of a Woody Allen picture.