One shouldn’t expect a Woody Allen film to be easy to describe. If you’ve seen a number of his movies you know this: Allen’s narcissistic, hypercritical, over-sexed self has to be braved in order to fully appreciate his films. For example, in Annie Hall the main character (a nervous, self-obsessed comedian played by Allen) is chronicling a past break up while revealing most (if not all) of his neuroses and societal gripes. Another film of his, Zelick, is a postmodern mockumentary made to critique the genre of the documentary (it’s about the life of a shy shape-shifter again, played by Allen) that takes place in the early 20th century.
Midnight in Paris shares the same fascination with nostalgia-a trait of Allen’s work I did not notice until now-and it continues his tradition of awkward romance and rooting for the underdog. The stylistic obstacles the viewer must overcome while watching Midnight in Paris, however, are easy to spot: the dialogue, while clever, is unrealistically self-aware. Allen uses a “pedantic”, scholarly character to acknowledge this pretense. While some of the monologues (trust me, they feel like monologues) are didactic and somewhat point out the obvious, their objective is to encourage the audience to observe with a distanced eye, taking in the beauty of what is onscreen and pondering the meaning beneath what is being said. It’s a film at times for the film nerd, and even at times for the old man (perhaps one like Allen? Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if he made this film for himself).
Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams are the leading couple, but don’t expect the usual charm from Wilson; my theory is Allen couldn’t play the protagonist (as he is now ancient and I, for one, would not want to see him with Rachel McAdams), so he wrote the character as if for himself and cast someone who he thought could carry the weight of the main character’s awkwardness. The dialogue makes Wilson sound like such a dork, not even the most charming leading actor could reinvigorate this emasculated, worrisome, profoundly lost man.
Though the dialogue is contrived and the pacing somewhat slow, there are genuinely good moments within the film simply because the script contains a genuinely good idea: Owen Wilson’s character, while vacationing in France travels back to his favorite time period (the 1920’s) to pitch his first novel to famous authors and painters while trying to figure out if getting married to Rachel McAdams’ character is what he really wants.
The film is most enjoyably a menagerie of famous figures, and is at its worst an unexpected type of time travel movie (if you want something of the energetic Back to the Future variety). Most of the historical figures are pretty recognizable if you paid attention in English or Art History class, and I very much enjoyed the many cameos. They were played well with just enough caricature and spunk to make them recognizable to, let’s face it, a generally art-illiterate public (Does Allen expect everyone to know who Man Ray is?)
McAdams does unlikeable very well, and her parents are a steady source of comedic relief. Most of the jokes are geared toward older (I’m talkin’ Denny’s senior discount), left leaning, probably a little well-off crowd (coincidentally the demographic that surrounded me during my viewing). I do recommend Midnight in Paris be seen, but be prepared for some moments of: “How much longer do I need to savor this?” if you’re used to the fast-paced films coming out right now.
The casting is brilliant, and the subtle homage to the French classic 400 Blows is refreshing. It’s a low-key, slower-paced date movie, perfect if you want to spend a relaxing 2 hours in air conditioning sightseeing and sharing some genuine chuckles. Don’t expect any particularly lovable main characters or any intense time travel action. Go to see the fun cast, the beautiful scenery, and to perhaps learn a few things along the way. As Midnight in Paris advocates: An appreciative eye for art, artists, and the context in which those things flourish is as attractive to others as it is enriching for oneself.
Any thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!