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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Midnight in Paris

This is by no means a great Woody Allen film, but some way or another it just about works.

Watching Midnight in Paris is like watching a bird and a squirrel playing in a tree. It’s a pleasant experience, it has a sort of beauty to it, it will make you ask some questions – and after the squirrel goes to sleep and the bird goes back to its nest, you will walk away and get on with your life.

In the movie, Owen Wilson plays Gill, a Hollywood screenwriter who spends his time dwelling in the past, bitter about the present and yearning to have lived during the 20’s. He visits Paris with his fiancĂ©e, played by Rachel McAdams (who bears a blonde wig this time around,) for both the sake of business and vacation, and takes the opportunity to conjure inspiration for his first novel by indulging on the city’s essence. When on a midnight stroll, an antique car pulls up, and Gil is lured in by its passengers. He finds himself in the 20’s, amongst the great artists that he has held such reverence for. And thus Gil explores the people and wonders of Paris’ past by night, and by day he attempts to keep others around him oblivious of his dwellings after the clock strikes midnight.

There is no denying that Midnight in Paris can be a very charming film. Venturing through the streets of Paris amidst its irresistible architecture, scenery, and grandeur is indeed a treat. It is a very Woody Allen type of movie, all the way from his now tediously recycled protagonist that is yet again another variation of Allen’s persona to the strong tie the plot shares with its setting.

It’s charming indeed, but that’s not enough to cover up for its numerous flaws. The premise here is interesting, but the film soon begins to rely far too much on it. When the film does go back to previous time periods, it focuses little on the actual lifestyle and culture but rather on the famous artists and icons. It quickly becomes a gimmick, for it tries to capture the audience’s attention by sneaking in more famous painters after writers after musicians. It takes a recognizable actor, pairs it with a recognizable costume and a memorable but one dimensional personality and throws them at the screen. In fact, if it weren’t for seeing icons such as Salvador Dali or Josephine Baker in the scenes that take place in the past, you wouldn’t really be able to tell what time period the movie was in, or if it had gone back in time at all.

The biggest shame here is that the movie doesn’t seem to try to make these characters genuine. In the end, what saves the movie is the supporting cast, composed of Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, and a wonderful Adrien Brody who gets a painful scarcity of screen time as Salvador Dali. None of these characters have any dimension at all, and in fact, besides Owen Wilson’s character, they are all on the verge of being stereotypes. Rachel McAdams is the bickering wife, Michael Sheen is the seemingly perfect intellectual whose role in the plot proves predicable, and Kathy Bates is snappy and knowledgeable as Gertrude Stein.

And then there is Marion Cotillard’s character, Adrianna, who is perhaps the most disappointing, disposable, and lifeless character of them all. She is the obligatory love interest who offers nothing but good look, a flirty smile, and an absence of any personality or interest. She is a vehicle for which the movie communicates its message, but nothing else. However, Cotillard, like the rest of the supporting cast, does a commendable job with what she is given to work with.

I’ve never been a fan of Owen Wilson, nor will I after having seen this movie, but I can say that his performance here isn’t at all a bad one. There is something about his timing, his charisma, and his charm that allow him to be able to carry this movie along. He isn’t perfect casting either, but I can’t complain about his performance. He is better than good enough, and that’s something I don’t find hard to appreciate.

The film’s biggest strength is its thoroughly provocative philosophy. It brings up some questions that you might not have asked yourself before, and provides you with something to think about on the car ride home. This is by no means a great Woody Allen film, but some way or another it just about works. Maybe it’s the seductive Paris backdrop, maybe it’s the enchanting soundtrack, maybe it’s the spark that forms when these two combine. Or maybe it’s just that Woody Allen knows what he’s doing.