Wednesday, June 08, 2011

I'LL TAKE PARIS. Saw Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris the other day and loved it. Yes, loved. I haven't had a good run with late Woody, but Midnight in Paris is the first one since Match Point that I'd really like to see again.

The McGuffin you've heard: A Hollywood hack goes to Paris with his fiancee and moons about how he wishes he were there in its fabled '20s; he gets his wish, and things get complicated. Knowing how enamored Allen is of Days Gone By (he sometimes wants to make me yell "everything has to be old and in black and white!" like Sophie Crumb), I was nervous about that going in. But it's Allen's leading man who's goofy about Paree, not Allen, who isn't so enamored of it that he can't make jokes. Good jokes, too. ("Of course it doesn't seem strange to you!" the hero at one point tells Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, and Man Ray. "You're surrealists!") Anyway, the movie's not really about that.

It helps that Allen has Owen Wilson in the lead. Wilson dispenses with Allen's tics and gives us a chummier kind of alienation. He's not as nervous as Woody, but when he's put in situations (nagging fiancee, pseuds, his first moments in the magical past) where his generous natural charm just doesn't cut the mustard, he responds with his own kind of discomfort -- he's as Owen-Wilsonian as usual, but a little more insistent on it. (There's something extra hilarious about his fiancee telling him that, along with everything else, his rival is an expert on wine, and Wilson responding, enthusiastically, "No! Really?") So we get a Woody-type hero who's not stuck with Woody-type behaviors, and can respond to him as a guy who might be alright if he didn't let himself get so crowded by idiots.

The Lost Generation scenes are fun, especially when they include Corey Stoll as an Ernest Hemingway who talks a lot about the brave and true and good, and asks Wilson if he wants to box as if he were asking him to step out for a smoke. But the pleasure deepens when Hemingway and the others talk sense to Wilson -- that is, tell him some things that he can take back to the 21st Century. This, and the device of having the hero transported from the same spot at midnight every night, are clues that the time-tripping is just a way of getting the hero to acknowledge a deeper reality, and to face his problems in the here and now. To me it's much more satisfying than The Purple Rose of Cairo, where the dream of interaction with movies is cursed to disappoint. However wised-up that vision may seem, it's not as powerful, nor as dramatically rewarding, as a dream that leads to a real awakening.

And that's what our hero gets. As easy as it was to predict how the bookstall girl would react when the rain came down on her and Wilson at the end, it still touched me in a way that I'd long ago stopped expecting from Woody Allen. It's rare enough, and welcome, to find such a witty, literate script, but to also get a nice touch of romance at the end -- well, it was well worth the price of admission. I hope Allen's in good health, because suddenly I'm interested to see what he does next.

UPDATE. Late as it is, I want to mention that commenter aimai has some good objections to the movie, which (also in comments) I attempt to answer.

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