Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Minuit Dans le Jardin d'Excellence

Before I write about this film, let me disclose something. I've never been a fan of Woody Allen. I find him to be annoyingly neurotic and that makes his movies unbearable for me to watch. I may have seen bits and pieces of a few of his films, but the one I saw in the theaters was four years ago: Scoop. I was new in Portland, I had a date with a lady who was into Tarot cards, so why not check out a movie that was about a Tarot Card killer? Plus, the film had Hugh Jackman in it, who is just an all-around cool guy who makes good film choices. Unfortunately, though, I hated the movie. The premise sounded cool, but the delivery stank. I walked out of the theater feeling conned and swore I'd never watch another Woody Allen movie.

Then comes his latest, Midnight in Paris. Its almost as if Woody Allen made this film just for a guy like me. When I saw the previews to this film, I knew I just had to see it. First, Allen set the film in the most beautiful city in the universe. Paris is as much a star as his usual lineup of famous actors and actresses. Second, this movie features Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the whole Lost Generation in Paris history. As a literary person who loves the Lost Generation (though not as much as the Beat Generation), I'm up for any movie that revolves around Hemingway and the other writers and artists in 1920s Paris. Third, Woody Allen is not acting in this one. Instead, Owen Wilson stars as his stand-in. I'm not a fan of Wilson, but its not enough of a dislike to keep me away from a film of this kind (Jack Black would've kept me away, though. I HATE his brand of humour).

So, on Friday night after work, I went to the theater in downtown Portland to watch this film. I was stunned how crowded the theater was. Midnight in Paris was playing on FOUR screens and it was packed! I was shocked that so many people wanted to see this movie. I suspect that this might be his most successful movie yet. It received rave reviews in the paper.

Before you read any further, I'm going to have to issue a warning. If you want to see this movie, please do not read any further because the following review will contain spoilers. You must experience this movie knowing as little as possible. Reading any further will deny you that pleasure. So, you've been warned.

* * * * * * S P O I L E R * * * * * A L E R T * * * * * * * *

Owen Wilson plays Gil, a successful Hollywood screenwriter who is taking a hiatus to write a novel, probably in a plea for literary respectability. He is engaged to be married to Inez (played by Rachel McAdams), who is an annoying materialist, spoiled little rich girl. They are visiting her parents in Paris. Her father is a businessman on a trip to the City of Lights. Tension sets in early on when politics comes up at dinner, with Gil taking potshots against teabaggers.

By strange coincidence, Inez's university professor (played to absurd pretensions by Michael Sheen) happens to be in Paris as well with his lady love. The couples hang out together at Versailles and the Rodin Museum. Inez thinks the professor is so interesting and intelligent while Gil just views him as a pretentious know-it-all show-off. At the Rodin Museum, the professor proceeds to argue with the tourguide (played by the First Lady of France, Carla Bruni--the wife of President Nicolas Sarkozy) over details of Rodin's love life.

When Inez wants to go off dancing, Gil has had enough of being around the professor and begs off. Instead, he prefers to walk the cobblestone streets of Paris. He gets lost somewhere in Montmartre (my favourite neighbourhood in Paris, because its on a steep hill with narrow streets, offering excellent views of the entire city). At the stroke of midnight, a car straight out of the 1920s drives up the narrow street and stops. The people in the car invite Gil for a ride. They get off at a salon or club, where people are decked out in their Jazz Age best, with some dude on the piano singing the classic Cole Porter song, "Let's Do It" (love that song!). Gil meets the zany Zelda, who introduces him to her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gil is amused at the name coincidence to the famous American author, until he realizes that he somehow stepped back in time and is actually meeting the real author before he got famous. Fitzgerald introduces Gil to Hemingway at a cafe, and the laughs come at a steady clip. The Hemingway character is truly that: a character, speaking in the style of his books (I'm not a fan of Hemingway's writing style). Gil asks Hemingway if he would critique his novel. Hemingway does even better: promising to link him up with Gertrude Stein instead, the woman who helped Hemingway's literary career in a big way.

As Gil experienced this strange time warp night after night, he meets other artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. However, its Picasso's mistress, Adriana (played by Best Actress Oscar winner Marion Cotillard), who captures Gil's interest. She's in a love triangle between Picasso and Hemingway, but her true love is the Belle Epoque (Paris in the 1890s), when Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, and Paul Gauguin hung out at Maxim and watched the can-can.

By the film's resolution, Woody Allen has made a somewhat subtle political film (the only possible explanation for why he had two characters argue about the Tea Party). The message? Everyone dreams of a mythical Golden Age, but each era has its negatives. Humans have a tendency to only remember the good, which is actually a blessing. We shouldn't be focusing on the negatives. But instead of pining for some mythical past, our moment is now because we are here and now. And you can bet that someone far in the future will wish that he or she could've lived in our era.

I was absolutely astonished by the brilliance of this film. I loved every single minute of it. The movie was far funnier than I expected. In fact, I laughed more in this one than I did watching The Hangover, Part II a week earlier. I loved Midnight in Paris. I want to say that it is Woody Allen's best film, but I'm not qualified to make that claim, because I haven't seen Annie Hall or some of his others that are considered classics. I may have to hold my own Woody Allen Film Festival this summer and see first hand why he has such a film following.

I believe that this may be the adult film hit of this summer. Every summer, the explosive blockbusters get most of the attention and dollars, but there are always a few films aimed at mature audiences that manage to rake in money as well. Five summers ago, it was The Devil Wears Prada. A few years ago it was Julie and Julia. This summer, I predict its Midnight in Paris.

Pictured above is Carla Bruni as the Rodin Museum tour guide with Owen Wilson. I was surprised that Owen Wilson was actually pretty good in this film. He makes an excellent stand-in for Woody Allen. The only thing that would have made this film even better is a role for Audrey Tautou, but she was no where to be seen. She is my dream lady.

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