Tag Archives: Midnight in Paris

Page and Screen: Woody Allen is right to have fun with classic literary figures in Midnight in Paris

For the arty cinemagoer, after something more substantial than the resurrection of Rowan Atkinson’s clownish spy Jonny English, there was a choice to make this week. Accomplished actor Paddy Considine’s directorial debut Tyrannosaur faced screen legend Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, in a battle for Britain’s “alternative” vote at posh theatres and screening rooms.

Considine’s story, which stars Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman and revolves around domestic abuse, has been praised to the rooftops by a range of critics. Allen’s film too has garnered praise so that whispers about a comeback have grown into audible chatter. But even though Midnight in Paris has been hailed his best film in years, Allen’s recent track record has been so woeful that all this effectively means is that it’s passably entertaining and perceptive. It’s not great art or great cinema.

It is, however, based on fantastical encounters with some of the greatest creative types in history. Owen Wilson’s disillusioned scriptwriter Gil magically and mysteriously meets the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, TS Elliot and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He doesn’t just meet them either. He interacts with them, whining about his artistic insecurities and the unsatisfactory nature of existence.

We’re often told not to meet our heroes. Our expectations are too high, too inflated by impossibly perfect ideals, for the reality of a flesh and blood human being to match. However Gil, as usual the character Woody would’ve once played himself, is somehow not disappointed by the literary greats he encounters on his midnight Parisian strolls. And he has good reason to feel letdown.

The instantly recognisable authors and artists are charming enough but they are comprised almost entirely of clichés. Scott Fitzgerald says “old sport” a lot, as his most famous creation Jay Gatsby is prone to do. Hemingway’s conversational style is blunt and stripped of convention, much like his economical and observational prose. Dali is reduced to a series of surreal catchphrases about a rhino.

In short these are cardboard cut-out versions of such famous faces. We are left with neither a believable representation of their brilliance or a more human, accessible character that we can “know”. Tom Hiddleston and others are simply fooling around in their roles.

But Midnight in Paris is a fantasy and there’s nothing wrong with the actors evidently enjoying themselves. In fact the tone of the entire film is extremely refreshing. It never takes itself too seriously and doesn’t become dependent on pretentious in-jokes. And it never stops asking intriguing questions about the past, art and the way we live either.

This column is often too focused on the great weight placed on the shoulders of anyone trying to adapt something from the page to the screen, rather than how much fun the intermingling between literature and cinema can be. There’s no doubt that the whole business of adaptation can become too serious a slog. By creating something original but also dabbling lightly in the best literature has to offer for influences, Allen has written and directed a film that is at once thoughtful, bookish and full of fun.

P.S Just because Allen had the easier sell, don’t neglect Tyrannosaur, which looks like a superb, if brutal, example of pioneering British filmmaking.

Midnight in Paris

Originally published at X-Media Online

Woody Allen’s latest babbling love letter, whilst slow at times, takes you on an enchanting and enlightening journey at Exeter’s delightfully intimate Picturehouse.

I am far from well versed in Allen’s CV but anyone with a set of eyes and ears can’t have escaped the fact that a cinematic legend has become a running joke in recent years. And yet Midnight in Paris has been championed loudly as a possible comeback since Cannes, even more so than 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which featured a sizzling kiss between Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson.

There’s no explosive passion of that kind in this film, despite appearances from beauties Rachel McAdams and Marion Cotillard. In fact the sex appeal is of a different nature altogether. Allen lays the seductiveness of the Parisian streets on thick, as you might expect from the title. But then there’s also the exotic charm of what happens to Owen Wilson’s unfulfilled scriptwriter Gil, surely a character embodying Allen’s disgust with his own decline, on his aimless midnight wanderings.

Inexplicably Gil is whisked back in time to the city in the 1920s, an era he views as a deliciously unobtainable “Golden Age”. American literary greats, from Tom Hiddleston’s F.Scott Fitzgerald to Corey Stoll’s hilariously frank Ernest Hemingway, inhabit the nightspots acting droll and generally genius. The beautiful women that were the muses of Picasso and Adrien Brody’s rhinoceros obsessed Salvador Dali dance and sip cocktails in the moonlight.

Allen makes no attempt to ask how Gil finds himself partying in the past, nor does he question whether it’s all a concoction of his stifled imagination. Instead the film focuses on the dangers of living your life longing to be a part of history that’s already been made. Sure the 21st century can be dull and depressingly devoid of truths to discover but what’s the point of clinging to nostalgia?

Gil thinks there are plenty of reasons. He wants to get the manuscript for his novel looked over by Hemingway and be inspired by TS Elliot. Does the film manage to make these 20th century icons into characters though? The answer is; a little. In reality they’re more like caricatures, with Fitzgerald spouting “old sport” like his famous Gatsby, Hemingway constantly spoiling for a fight and Dali little more than an oddball.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter that they lack depth. Midnight in Paris is a fantasy, full of irresistible fun. It’s slow at first but eventually Owen Wilson steams through a couple of fantastically funny scenes, supported by an impressively irritatingly Michael Sheen and others, including French first lady Carla Bruni.

I’ve often craved a more meaningful backdrop of Blitz spirit or Hollywood glamour. But in the end Allen’s uplifting message is simple. The past’s allure lies with its alien mystery. And the great figures of the past were only great because they chose to grasp the present in both hands; to seize the day.

My verdict: 3 out of 5 stars