Yeah, Paris is pretty fucking nice.

Midnight in Paris is a movie I didn’t know a lot about going in. It makes for a great counterpoint to I Melt With You (I watched them on the same day) since it is about the capacity for someone to change how their lives are going, even if its hard, based on what they really want to be and who they really are in the end. Of course, an argument can be made that I Melt With You is more about what happens to a guy like Gil after he marries Inez. Sure sure, still: I have to side with a movie that is about embracing life’s possibilities and taking the harder, more courageous road. Of course, Midnight in Paris may not be a remarkably deep film but it is definitely a hugely personal one. It’s also well-served and well-serving with an audience that has knowledge and appreciation for art, writing, and Paris herself. I wouldn’t say I’m the best versed on any of these subjects, but the enthusiasm and fun with which they are treated in this film are entirely infectious.

Midnight in Paris is about Gil (Owen Wilson), a young screenwriter and self-described Hollywood hack. He’s probably some kind of stand-in for Allen himself, something I’ll talk about more later. Gil is about to marry Inez (Rachel McAdams), a self-possessed and spoiled rich girl whose overbearing dismissal of Gil’s whimsical and nostalgic soul creates a climate of casual cruelty and snobbery between them that is, frankly, unfuckingbearable to watch. Her parents are even worse. You’re caught asking yourself, what’s a guy like Gil even doing in this situation? One of those conceits, I guess. He has to be in this situation so the events of the movie, however surreal, can get him the fuck out of it. Well right on then, on with it!

Gil’s sort of a passive guy. He’s sensitive about his writing but he seems to take other peoples’ bullshit well in stride. A good thing too as, during the portions of the film where he’s following Inez and her parents (and college friends) around the city, he is fed a lot of it. Paul (Michael Sheen) is a magnificent cunt in this film, a guy who is the definition of bourgeois pseudo-intellectual, constantly projecting himself onto his surroundings via knowledge, often incorrect or at the very best tame and collected from fucking Fromer’s (or so it seems). You hate every fiber of him, but you hate Inez even worse because she fawns all over him while consistently rejecting Gil as if he’s just a prop. Because to her, he pretty much is. You hate them with the fury of 1000 suns and you’re supposed to because Gil can’t. He, at best, can only get vaguely perplexed by it but he is never actually angry though he should be forever. No, we are meant to get angry for him so that he can get on with the business of falling in love with Paris.

Fucking PAUL!

The magician’s trick Woody Allen is trying to pull on the audience is that, while we are angry for Gil and thus connected to him, we’ll follow him into the inexplicable journey through time (and the personalities of the greatly artistic) that ultimately leads him to make the big decision to extricate himself from a life of ignoring the present to look back at the past. That’s really the moral of the movie, one that feels like a bit of self-talk on Allen’s part. Though Gil loves the 20’s and considers it the best era to be alive, and Paris the best city, he comes to understand that “golden age” thinking is a problem for every generation. This is the one thing Paul and Inez are right about, it turns out, though they come by the knowledge through dishonest means. Only able to look at art as a thing to possess and master via reductive opinions about it. Gil’s journey is more honest, come by through intimacy and genuine appreciation for what moves him.

Plus, it’s a lot of fun for us as Gil rubs up against the eccentric party-going lives of famous writers and artists. You get a sense that these are people Woody Allen really appreciates and admires, their work the pinnacle of whatever form. The movie spends a significant amount of time with Ernest Hemingway (Cory Stoll) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) as sort of spirit guides for Gil and his writing. They also introduce him to Adriana (Marion Cotillard) through whom Allen gives us the climax of his trick. At first, Adriana represents both all the great things about the 20’s (especially via her interconnected relationships with its big figures) but eventually this turns to her own fascination and nostalgia for the 1890’s, her own personal golden age, and suddenly she represents the problem Gil is learning to identify as such. It’s just a great inversion.

I’d fall in love with Marion Cotillard in Paris too, Owen.

Hemingway was my favorite of the side-characters and I suspect Allen’s too. He’s also my favorite of the artistic figures of the 20’s as presented in the film. I know more about Hemingway’s writing than I do about the other writers (or artists) in the film and while there is a reverence for him via Gil, it balances out the utter piss taken out of him through how he’s written by Allen and performed by Stoll. There’s a lot of this sort of thing in the film. Woody Allen both venerates these people and has his fun with them and the result for serious students of the arts (more serious than me!) is probably an interesting one.

I don’t know if Woody Allen really feels like he missed an opportunity to live in Paris when he was young, write novels instead of make movies, or if he’s just creating a story about a guy maybe a little like him (as I imagine most of his stories are). I have to confess I’m not much more knowledgeable about Allen than I am about the literary and artistic icons he and his actors have so much fun with here (Adrien Brody is especially bizarre as Salvador Dali). As a result, I can’t comment with much veracity about the relationship Woody Allen has with his movie except to say that it’s definitely about how he feels about nostalgia. This is why he’s kept going, making modern movies for modern audiences that often contain at least an appreciation for the good things about the past. He is not, however, wrapped up in regression over progression and that’s a great way to not only frame Midnight in Paris (makes it more accessible for kids like me!) but also a nice out-of-context counterpunch for films like I Melt With You which are more concerned with ideas of decay, inevitability, and self-destruction brought on by making the wrong choices. Midnight in Paris says we can turn it around before those choices ever get made, or we can make different ones (more honest ones) down the road.

Whatever, life is beautiful.

As is Paris apparently, rain or no rain, night or day!

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