Monday, June 13, 2011

Olivier's Review of Midnight in Paris

Films that fail to elicit a strong reaction in their audience, good or
bad, are the worst ones to have to review. I go to the movies to learn
something about myself, events, ideas or other people. I like to be
inspired. I like to be impressed. What I hate and what I think is a
waste of time is to go to the movies and to be mildly amused.

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011) was only amusing. It pissed me
off because of all the things it could have been but wasn’t. I hate
how it seems to take itself seriously as a comedy. It’s a lazy,
unfocused story that will be remembered for its famous director and
the famous actors in it who played against type or who mugged for the
camera in zany bit parts.

The film wasn’t funny. To be sure, there were scenes that were very
funny, but they were undercut by so many simple failings that it made
me angry.

The film starts out seeming to be a tongue-in-cheek time travel
adventure story full of celebrities acting out the salacious private
lives of very famous people from bygone eras in Paris, with the
hapless protagonist Gil (Owen Wilson) relating all the details to his
disbelieving finance Ines (Rachel McAdams) in the present day. Gil is
an aspiring writer with a head full of stories about 1920s Paris and
Ines is a foil to Gil’s dreaminess. McAdams plays Ines very flat and
it’s a bit embarrassing. She belittles, ignores and insults Gil from
the first scene to the last in a valley girl stereotype bonanza. The
portrayal is weak when it could be cutting and it’s serious when it
should be ironic. It’s so unrelenting that there is no clear reason
why Gil is even with her from the start; which makes the slow build-up
to his realization of this so much more boring and anticlimactic.

The rest of the characters are basically there for shock value, filler
or a quick joke, except for the stereotypically Parisian love interest
Adriana, played sincerely by Marion Cotillard. Adriana helped
crystallize a thought that was nagging at me throughout the film: How
can Gil be in love with Paris when he knows nothing about it, except
for the stories he read about the 1920s expatriate scene? He can’t be.
He argues with Adriana about which Parisian era was best in what is
supposed to be a critique of nostalgic romanticism, but all it serves
to do is prove that his views (and the entire film) are simply a
misinformed and fake Americanized conception of something truly
beautiful and wholly other than what is experienced by foreigners. It
is truly ironic that Gil mocks Ines’ father for hating France and
wanting food and wine from California, when all his own Parisian
ideals are really just exported Americanism.

The film flails in this regard. Gil is awestruck when he meets, well,
every single luminary of the 1920s Parisian expatriate scene and is at
once accepted into their inner circle. There are then some cheap jokes
about historical facts. Corey Stoll delivers some excellent monologues
as Ernest Hemingway, but can’t make them stick because it’s clear he’s
about to start howling with laughter at every sentence. Adrian Brody
has a silly moustache and just keeps yelling “Dali! Dali!” in a
forgettable bit role. Some of these things made me laugh, but it was
really just a gag fest of famous people on screen (why is the first
lady of France playing a tour guide?).

What really upset me was the uncharted depth of this film. When Gill
meets F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) at a party, he is
introduced to a youthful “Scott” who feigns boredom in an obvious
attempt to appear “cool” to Gil. I thought this was wonderful. In a
film riddled with flat characters and clichés piled upon clichés, I
would have welcomed the old adage that it’s best not to meet your
idols. Also, the juxtaposition of female French characters shown as
even-keeled and accepting versus the ludicrous nouveau riche female
American characters was worth exploring. Similarly, there could have
been some examination of Gil’s dreaminess beyond the Ines mock-a-thon
decidedly lacking in nuance.

Some films reek of their directors from the opening scene to the
credits, often that’s the very reason you go to see them, but they
should stand alone beyond the hype. Woody Allen has made some great
films, but those were all nuanced and charming. Midnight in Paris may
be charming with its stock image still shots of Paris in the rain, but
it’s as nuanced as Heinz Ketchup. I laughed, I checked my watch, I
laughed a bit more and, when the time came, I left the theatre mildly

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