Midnight in Paris (2011) – Woody Allen (Dir.), Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, Tom Hiddleston
Art’s a funny thing. So many people around the earth connect with these disparate and distant works, created by minds that we shall never truly know, inhabiting bodies of humans that will forever be a mystery to us, no matter how deeply and thoroughly we research, read and examine. By reading a book, watching a film, observing an oil work, scouring a poem, engorging on piece after piece of literary brilliance, we attempt to drink up these geniuses of our emotional affection. We fall in love, word by word, thinking that we are delving into the soul of a great person, a person we shall never attain, never tarnish, never let down, never upset, affront or hurt. We think we know them in their purest forms to the point that curling into bed with their pages is almost akin to embracing a true love before tumbling into peaceful sleep. I’ve had heroes. I’ve had literary lovers. I’ve had filmmakers, playwrights and artists I would marry given half the chance. But that’s only on the merit of their work. We meet them… we read about their abuse, their sordid love affairs, their opinions on politics, on others’ works and we realize, for the most part, they’re all assholes.
The fantasy shatters. The books don’t taste so sweet. We gently drift away, not immediately supping on their newly released works promising that ‘I’ll get to it later’ and yet, day after day, the rift grows until the affair is ended. Finally, they flitter off, simply another slot in the mosaic of our lives, dissolving into those memory-tomes of relationships past, essential to who we are but no longer current or immediate.
Midnight in Paris was two things for me. On the one hand, it was a delightful, funny, ‘what famous person are we going to meet next?’ romp through a city I haven’t seen since I was a wee lad and, on the other, it was a black hole of artistic sadness. As someone who has only begun to cherish wonderful works of art after college, I feel as though I’ve missed so many opportunities to fall in love and obsess over the creations of greats. We have Owen Wilson, a hollywood writer who is attempting to find a little more. He falls in love with Paris as he falls out of love with his shrewish, incessant, negging and nagging fiancé (Rachel “This is What Regina George Would Be at 30” McAdams), hoping to rediscover the true artist within himself and finally finish his first attempt at a novel. While on a midnight stroll, he gets in a 1920s-era vehicle (like you do) and is immediately transported back in time. The rest of his evenings are spent listening to Cole Porter compose, F. Scott Fitzgerald get drunk (a woefully not-loki version of Tom Hiddleston), Hemingway spout inebriated/charming dickishness and Gertrude Stein reviewing Picassos (made exponentially better than she could have EVER been in real life by Kathy “Move Bitch, Get Out the Way!” Bates). He also happens to fall for Marion Cotillard because, well, guess what? She’s Marion Mutherfucking Cotillard. If you don’t fall in love with her (I don’t care about your gender/preference) you have no soul. I mean, COME ON. Even Maggie Thatcher would get a boner for that babe! (Side note: new porno idea – call it, ‘Trickle-Down Bonernomics’)
Is he time-traveling? Is he suffering from a brain tumor? Is his wife sleeping with the really pretentious and I-want-to-punch-him-in-the-face-repeatedly werewolf from the Underworld series? Can Carla Bruni act? Also, I hear there are naked pictures of her? Can anyone hook a brother up? All of that aside, this is a Woody Allen flick so, no matter how much he tries to escape the event horizon that is his early film career and the fact that he is Woody ‘Creepy Uncle’ Allen, subtlety can pretty much go hang. There is no doubt where the movie is headed. In terms of theme, he doesn’t allow you to pick it up for yourself, but rather has Owen Wilson spout anything underlying as super-liminally as possible. This is a movie about being stuck in the past, be it a past era, a past relationship or any other nostalgia-trap. It’s about always looking back to a finer time and never being pleased with the present. It works, it’s affecting, it’s sweet and sad and, well, it’s Woody Fucking Allen. Unless Scarlett Johansson is taking her top off, you know the plot and you know the end.
So let’s tie this thing together, shall we? While it’s almost infuriating to see Allen almost Disney-fy certain detestable aspects of certain literary figures, smushing them all together in this pie of cutesy famous people (side note: reality show idea – Celebri-Pie!), he’s making a decent point. This is how we see these past. All famous people know each other. They all get together in parties, where no plebs are invited, and discuss brilliant topics, the likes of which we normies will never witness. It only pushes the thesis further that this past is so fantastically perfect for Mr. Wilson and his stunted artistic growth. But the key word is ‘fantastic’. It’s all a fantasy. While midnight might be the sweetest point of night, the witching hour during which anything and everything might and will occur, we are never privy to the next morning and the inevitable hangover that drags this fairytale into the realm of the real. Yes, it’s hilarious to see Adrien Brody’s Salvador Dali constantly repeating the word ‘Rhinoceros’ or crazy, crazy Zelda Fitzgerald drunking herself all over the place (played to perfection by the ugly chick from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), but, like all Allen films, this isn’t about life. This is about the idea of life, a perfected vision and the cracks illuminated by the hyperbole. We see the plight of being engaged to a rich bitch with nothing better to do than shop for $18,000 chairs, buy out Christian Dior, and slobber over assholes in suits who believe themselves qualified to critique the works of the Louvre (*shudder*). While some of his movies are too, for lack of a better term, bougie-as-fuck, this one manages to cut into the golden intersection (also a favorite sex position involving, well…use your imagination) of high-minded ideas and normal people. Everyone is affected by nostalgia. It’s that virulent beast that sneaks up on you on cold nights when the whiskey is flowing and you see that one episode of that one show and suddenly you’re remembering your last five years, over and over again thinking, ‘Man, shit used to be better’ before waking up the next morning feeling like a French person violated your cerebral cortex with a baguette, six cloves of garlic and the entire cast of Moliere’s Tartuffe and thinking ‘What the fuck was I thinking?’ Nostalgia happens. When it happens over and over again…go see a doctor.
It’s a beautiful movie; it’s funny; it’s cutesy; it’s all the things you could want from a Woody Allen movie (except having the decrepit form of Allen himself who, juxtaposed against the beautiful people he insists on hiring, always looks like the nebbish shadow of death ready to remove them all from the mortal coil, one by one). Perhaps an unintended consequence of casting Mr. Wilson, who, in the past, has always seemed exasperated with the concept of breathing (he could win awards for how high his voice gets), has the added pathos since his reported suicide attempt a few years before. Seeing a man frustrated with his lot in life and searching for higher meaning has a weight that otherwise would have been lacking. Once again, we have the personal life of the artist intersect with that of their work. The dream of a care-free Owen Wilson, giggling and messing about with his sophomoric and grating buddy Ben Stiller, is over. We’ve awakened to a human with darkness lying beneath the surface. Not sure what I’m trying to say, but seeing a lost soul wandering through an idealized city that he might never own is an image that will never die no matter in what time period we happen to be stuck.
All I’m saying is this, if I do magically get transported back in time to meet my favorite artist, I’d tell Buddy Holly to get on that airplane because, holy shit, paradoxes and time travel are terrifying things and I might blow up the universe. Better be safe than sorry.