If I were going to write the executive summary for Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, it would probably be: “This is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for nebbishy dweebs who think they’re too good for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”
Screenwriter Owen Wilson takes a trip to Paris with fianceé Rachel MacAdams and her parents Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy, when they run into friends Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda. As taken as his fianceé is with the male half of this duo, Wilson himself is put off and takes to wandering around Paris rather than going out with them. When he gets lost, and the clock strikes midnight, a car shows up and takes him to 1920s Paris where he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Ernest Hemmingway. Then Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, Matisse, Bunuel, and on and on.
I don’t like Woody Allen. This goes back to when I was a kid, knowing nothing about him. His movies occasionally made me laugh, but I also always felt a little icky and hollow after watching one. The last movie of his I saw (prior to this) was Match Point, which I saw without knowing it was him. I sat through it thinking, “Well, this is well done, but it seems to reek of a kind of malignant narcissism,” and then, roll credits, “Written and Directed by Woody Allen”.
So, my first gripe with this film is the League thing: If you’re going to represent yourself as worthy of writing for the giants of literature, you better write some damn good stuff. Similarly, if Woody Allen wants to put words in the mouths of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, etc., etc., he better bring it.
By the way, if you like Woody Allen, you might find his representations cute and charming.
My next gripe is that, if one were picking a time in history to idealize, and one were a Jew, one might think 1929 Paris wouldn’t be first choice. France hated her Jews by the ‘30s, and one presumes that it didn’t spring suddenly out of whole cloth from a totally egalitarian ’20s, but you could rationalize this by presuming the time would never change and would always stay in that ideal moment (I guess). Or maybe by arguing that Owen Wilson wasn’t a Jew, but I’m not sure that the responsibility can be sloughed off in that way.
My gripe after the last gripe is that if you had gone back in time, maybe your first instinct shouldn’t be to get laid. In fact, unsurprisingly, the movie has an appalling sexuality to it. Our “hero” is engaged to a woman the script makes only the frailest attempt to demonstrate an attraction to—making the relationship resolution a foregone conclusion from scene one—but he’s immediately hitting on a different woman in his time travelling. And on museum tours. And just walking the streets.
Meanwhile, his fianceé is fawning over a pedantic fop whose main service to the film is to be more insufferable than the lead. Actually, that’s about every “real” main character’s role: To be awful in comparison to the poetic hero. The Boy, who’s never seen a Woody Allen flick before, leaned in at about 5 minutes and said “Everyone in this movie is a dick.”
He exempted the hero’s in-laws, because they didn’t have many lines (at least at first). Early on, though, we learn they’re horrible because they’re Republicans. Easy-peasey. No need for character development, huh, Woody?
My mother, who sees very few movies in a year, was going to see this because of the various raves she’d heard about it. But they were all from people with radically different tastes from her—Mommah likes her some action flicks—and she hates Woody Allen. (The Old Man hated him, too, while admiring his prowess as a cinematographer, so maybe it runs in the family.)
I told her to go see Win-Win. She loves sports movies. She loves Paul Giamatti. She hates Woody Allen.
And if you hate Woody Allen, this movie isn’t going to change your mind. On the other hand, if you like Woody Allen, you’re going to like this in all likelihood. Even I would say it’s fairly entertaining, if you can stand it. I found myself constantly irritated by—well, call it Woody-Allen-ness.
The Boy said it just made him want to take a nap. He realized early on he wasn’t going to care about the characters, the historical references are largely lost on him—and I tend to think that the giants of Woody Allen’s literary mind are not necessarily going to be remembered long past what’s very possibly undeserved late 20th century renown—so the gratification of the character’s ego on this fantasy altar was not just narcissistic to him, but largely meaningless.
Good cinematography, of course. And music. And women. (Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard and Lea Seydoux are his love interests.)
Excuse me while I go shower.