Saturday, September 24, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Enamors with glimpses of Paris past and present but otherwise falls flat. 

I’ve never been much of a Woody Allen fan. I enjoy watching him act—his personality and witticisms crack me up—but his films have never grabbed me. He’s a critical darling (Annie Hall for Best Picture? Really?), so the 92% on the “Tomatometer” shouldn’t have elevated my expectations as much as it did. But as one of the highest rated movies of the summer—and set in one of my favorite cities—I thought I’d give it a shot.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is looking for inspiration. He’s bored churning out screenplays and instead yearns to complete his first novel. He’s almost finished but it lacks…something. Seeking inspiration, Gil accompanies his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents to Paris. Immediately Gil is enamored by the city’s charm and fantasizes about a future there. Walking the streets at midnight, he is magically transported back to the Paris of the 1920s where he fraternizes with musical, artistic and literary luminaries such as Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. He also falls for the glamorous and mysterious Adriana (Marion Cotillard). His new friends give him perspective and insight into his novel, and Gil wonders if he might stay with them forever.

Owen Wilson ruined this movie for me. His attempt to channel the quirky and hilarious persona of Woody Allen fails miserably and instead he comes off as whiny and annoying. His nonstop talking grated my ears. He cannot carry a movie as the leading man and should stick to comedies and cameos. The supporting cast, however, boasts some outstanding performances. Marion Cotillard is cute and charming as Adriana, and Adrien Brody is spot-on as the surrealist Dali. In one hilarious scene, a confused Gil attempts to explain his midnight teleportations to Dali and his friends, but is frustrated when the artist is unperturbed and paints Gil as a rhinoceros, sad in spirit, lips melting off his face.

The story is shallow yet enchanting. The plot seemed unfocused and the moral tacked on: try and make the best of the time that you live in. But while the film falls short as a drama, it shines as a fun look at the historical City of Light. The scenery is beautiful and the mood of Paris’ streets and sights is captured so well on film, it is perhaps the best cinematic depiction I’ve seen. The glimpses of what the city must have been like in the ’20s were delightful, the energy electric and the glamour undeniable. The accordion score channeled Parisian but the constant repetition of the sole theme irritated. It’s a soundtrack I never wish to revisit.

There is little profanity and the sexual content is mild compared to Allen’s other films. Yet there are still some descriptions and discussions of sex, prostitution and homosexuality. An amoral attitude towards sex permeates the screenplay—Gil is encouraged in his romancing of Adriana in the 1920s, even while he continues his relationship with Inez in 2010.

Midnight in Paris could have been great. It was fanciful and sweet, perfectly capturing the allure of Paris, both present and past. But Owen Wilson’s ridiculous acting, the shallow plot, and the blasé attitude towards morals nearly cripple the film. It’s an average movie, neither good nor great. Enjoy it for the setting alone, or not at all.

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