Okay, I resisted going to the new Woody Allen movie. A lot of you did the same. Every weekend I need to be convinced to go to the movies. This wooing has to be so much better at grabbing people away from busy lives, exquisite home theaters with state of the art sound and vision, or a summer filled with other outdoor activities. Less and less people are actually going to first-run movies, even though theaters and film companies are making more money by upping the prices, and trying to attract people to pay more for 3D entertainment – parents with children, and thrill-seeking teenagers mostly – if you look at the dismal run of 3D films released this summer.
Having said this about the state of the summer films, I call Midnight in Paris this summer’s Inception, an assured word-of-mouth hit that doesn’t insult an audience’s intelligence.
Movie casting has rarely been as beneficial to any tight ensemble and Woody Allen started with Owen Wilson, who has never felt so natural or in his own character’s skin as he was playing Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter with ambitious dreams of becoming a novelist of depth. He is engaged to marry Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, and they are guests of her parents on a business trip to Paris, played wonderfully by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy. A longtime friend of Inez, Paul Bates, played with pedantic charm by Michael Sheen, and Paul’s girlfriend, bump into the couple and start to discover Paris together even though Gil would rather just be alone. There is a bit of a fairy tale feeling in the change in time periods, where Gil seeks a better life in the distant past, a time when he believes everything was better, brighter, more exciting, and he gets his wish. He meets Cole Porter, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Luis Bunuel, T.S. Eliot, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas, in a fugue of wonder. He also falls for the girlfriend of Picasso, Adriana, played in mesmerizing fashion by Marion Cotillard, who is seeking her own gilded age.
In the present world, and with great humor, it is totally understandable how Gil and Inez became engaged, even though they don’t fancy the same things, how life became too convoluted to protest, and how Gil lives in his head too much. They move forward with their wedding plans even knowing they are not the perfect couple. The in-law commentary is priceless.
Are Owen’s nighttime wanderings all a fantasy? I happily followed his course as the film sentimentally captured Paris. The city comes alive on screen. The director’s love of Paris becomes obvious and he succeeds in sharing this love. The yearning is palpable, and hidden, in so many of the characters, and this is a marvel, since there is little screen time to make each distinct. Alison Pill steals every scene she’s in as Zelda Fitzgerald and lights up the screen. Other standout actors: Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Marion Cotillard as Adriana, and Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, who embodies the macho swagger in hilarious ways.
So, if Midnight in Paris, a romantic comedy-fantasy, is still showing at your local theater, please go before it’s lost from the big screen. Or wait a short while to watch the DVD at home and cherish the experience. I’ll be watching it again, Justin