Thursday, 16 February 2012

Midnight in Paris

Academy Award Nominations: 4
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (Woody Allen)
  • Best Original Screenplay (Woody Allen)
  • Best Art Direction (Production Design: Anne Siebel, Set Decoration: Helene Dubreuil)

Gil Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter, and his fiancée Inez are holidaying in Paris with Inez's parents while Gil is struggling to write his first novel. Whereas Inez finds Paris as an opportunity to see its sights and view its art , guided by her pseudo-intellectual friend Paul, Gil is far more enamoured with the city, setting his sights on moving there. While on a night walk around the city, he gets lost, and at midnight, an antique car pulls up and ushers Gil inside. He discovers a number of people dressed in 1920's garb, ready to take him on an adventure in 1920's Paris, where he meets his literary and artistic heroes, finds inspiration and guidance for his novel, and meets Adriana, Pablo Picasso's mistress, with whom he becomes immediately enamoured...

I'll admit, I haven't actually seen many Woody Allen films, even though the man is legendarily a film-making machine. Of the ones I have seen, there have been a few I've hated (Match Point, Melinda and Melinda, Cassandra's Dream) and there have been a few I've liked, or even loved (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Manhattan, Annie Hall) and I'm not alone in that. Allen's films universally divide opinion, but the overwhelming agreement is that when he's bad, he's terrible, missing the point by a mile, but when he's good, he's fantastic, using a city and characters to tell a story of neuroses and life in general. Although his foray into London didn't pan out (You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger aside), his recent excursion into Barcelona won him plaudits and now he moves onto Paris, home of the great artists, something which inspires Midnight in Paris. So has he got it right, or has he got it wrong? This time, he's got it right. Very right.

Midnight in Paris is beguiling more than anything, romanticising Paris to an extreme, making this almost like a love letter to the city, something in the vein of so many classic romantic comedies where the protagonists meet at the Eiffel Tower. Allen's repeated image of Paris in the rain just sounds beautiful despite the fact you don't actually get that visual until the end of the film. Despite the fact Paris is a dirty, busy, overhyped cesspit, you start to associate with the protagonist Gil's enthusiasm for the city, and when his time-travelling adventures begin, the city and the 1920's period combined create an even more romantic vision of Paris, creating a beautiful vision of divulging artists and fascinating characters. Admittedly, the concept of the film is somewhat surreal (and later becomes meta when the device is repeated within itself) but that's not a bad thing; it serves to make the film more charming and generally more watchable. You feel without it, this would have been just another Manhattan, but thankfully it becomes its own film and excels because of that.

The film is carried squarely on the shoulders of Owen Wilson, who plays screenwriter Gil who goes to Paris looking for inspiration after struggling. You feel the character is heavily based on Allen himself, not just because of his situation and his quest for creativity in a different city, but because the character dresses like Allen and talks like Allen, using Allen's famous extended vocabulary and squeezing in facts and neuroses about life into very short, quickly delivered sentences. Wilson is able to pull off the pacing of the film, and with that, he holds the film together. A lesser performance, and the film would have fallen down, as it relies heavily on its fast-paced dialogue (so fast, in fact, the film only lasts 94 minutes). Rachel McAdams is reduced to somewhat of a cameo role as his wife, which is a shame, but also not, because she's quite wooden when she does appear on screen. Michael Sheen's brief appearances as Paul, as he plays an upper-class know-it-all quite well, surprisingly enough. Even Carla Bruni is alright in her cameo as the tour guide. In the 1920's, Tom Hiddleston (there he is again) is utterly charming in bringing F. Scott Fitzgerald to life, and Corey Stoll is fitfully deep and poignant and drunk as Ernest Hemingway. Kathy Bates doesn't seem to play Gertrude Stein, she seems to play Friendly Mother Movie Role Which Is Usually Filled By Kathy Bates, while Adrian Brody does a great cameo as Salvador Dali.

However, Marion Cotillard does fantastically well as Adriana, Picasso's mistress and muse who falls in love with Gil and vice versa. Her character seems to be a 1920's equivalent of Gil, with aspirations of something greater whilst reminiscing of an earlier period as a great time than the present. The characters fit together well and Wilson and Cotillard have a lot of chemistry, which is surprising given the short amount of time they're given to develop it in. Although their romance doesn't explore any new territory plot-wise, the fact that their relationship IS full of clichés about romance and Paris is never going to be more fitting than it is here. I will say, Cotillard's character seems far less complex than Wilson's character; Gil seems to be more a man of contemplation and reminiscence and vocabulary and neuroses, it seems as if more thought was given to creating this one character over any other, and as such, Gil dominates the proceedings throughout, becoming the tour de force in any given situation, for which most of the fellow leading characters suffer for, let alone the secondary characters and cameos. Their impact is lessened, but not unnoticed by any means.

Overall, it's a really interesting story Allen has devised here and he pulls it off well, hardly surprising given the years of experience he's had in delivering such films. The wide range of characters and the vast amount of fast-spoken dialogue mean you have to keep up with it; it is blink and you'll miss it at some points. Although some characters seem staged rather than natural, others are allowed to develop and flourish on screen and they do so greatly. The film looks beautifully shot, is directed well, and clearly written well as the dialogue is snappy and the story ticks along at a steady rate, reaching a firm conclusion. It may be full of clichés, but it's set in Paris, what did you expect? At least no-one gets engaged on top of the Eiffel Tower.

Rating: ****

Midnight in Paris was released on 7th October 2011 and is no longer being shown in cinemas.