Mark Metcalf
Moving Pictures

Midnight in Paris

By - Jun 2nd, 2011 04:00 am
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I99slAjca5Y

Woody Allen is a sort of an acquired taste; people either like him or they don’t. Does it help to understand his films if you’re the type who reads books, occasionally goes to art museums, loves movies about people, and really enjoy a good conversation? It probably makes the films more enjoyable. Certainly if you have read all of Hemingway, know of the trials and the joys of the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald marriage, had a twinge of lust for Modigliani’s muse, and have sat in the Thalia Theatre long after Luis Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel ended, then certainly you will love Midnight In Paris.

I did, and will again.

Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Owen Wilson plays is a successful Hollywood screenwriter trying to start a novel. He is in Paris with his overbearing and materialistic (but somehow, delightful) fiancé, sublimely played by Rachel McAdams. They play with and around each other like two of those little yellow butterflies that you see in summer dancing over the grass and through the flowers: constantly on the verge of merging, but never quite consummating the union. Her parents, wealthy Tea Party Americans, are suffering Paris and Parisians on business. Wilson idealizes the Paris of the 1920s, when it seemed filled with ex-pat American writers and Spanish or Italian painters, when art and literature were loved and recognized as a salvation of sorts.

One evening while walking home alone to avoid spending time with the pseudo-intellectual pedant Paul, played perfectly by Michael Sheen, Wilson is herded into an ancient car by none other than Scott and Zelda themselves. They take him on a tour of the Paris he has only been able to dream of. He has a wonderful confrontation with Hemingway, has his novel critiqued favorably by Gertrude Stein, and falls in love with the miraculous Marion Cotillard who plays Adriana, Picasso’s mistress and muse, formerly Modigliani’s mistress and muse — and the current ‘big game’ being hunted by Hemingway.

Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

As he is swept away by people who accept him as a writer and do not judge him with a materialistic measuring stick, Wilson’s character does what we all wish to do: he becomes more of himself.

It is quite possibly the best written and best acted Woody Allen film in a long time. Often the Allen surrogate character can’t escape the strong cadences in Allen’s style of language, and they end up sounding like someone impersonating Woody Allen, and poorly at that. Owen Wilson has such a  laconic personality that he manages to overcome the temptation and becomes his own creation.

Allen handles the time travel, if I dare call it that, effortlessly and it makes the film all the more enjoyable and believable. The cast of characters is so vast that I can’t mention them all, but they are brilliant. It all makes me long desperately for the time when art and artists were not celebrated so much as really loved, respected, and looked to as the “mirror held up to nature,” as Hamlet says.

Midnight In Paris opens Friday, June 3 at the Oriental Theatre.

Categories: Movies

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