The Scoop: 2011 PG-13, directed by Woody Allen and starring Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Corey Stoll, and Michael Sheen.
Summary Capsule: A writer is able to go back in time to meet his creative inspirations in the ’20s.
Eunice’s Rating: Oh Hiddles….
Eunice’s Review: I want to start off by saying that until a few days ago I had never even heard of this movie. If it hadn’t been for The Avengers rekindling my interest in Tom Hiddleston I doubt I would’ve ever seen it, I certainly know I wouldn’t have finished it.
Gil Pender and his fiancé have been invited along by her parents to a trip to Paris France while the dad closes a corporate merger. A successful movie script writer, Gil’s dream is to write novels, a dream reinvigorated by returning to Paris. Gil’s also really nostalgic, and thinks of ’20s Paris as the golden age for creativity. However he is surrounded by his fiancé, who may hate him, her parents, who definitely hate him, and her jerk face crush, who all belittle his outlook and appreciate nothing except a price tag.
So one night while Gil is walking the streets of Paris alone, he’s sitting on a corner when a clock strikes twelve and a mysterious ’20s era Peugeot pulls up filled with people in period dress bidding him to get inside…
Like I said I almost didn’t finish Midnight in Paris, if it hadn’t been that I knew Hiddleston would show up eventually, I wouldn’t have made it past the beginning. All the now time characters are so hatefully irritating I couldn’t stand them, the kind of people who value price over worth and have knowledge just to show it off, without passion for the subject. And Gil (Owen Wilson) doesn’t really balance them out with the commentary or remarks required to turn it into comedy, Gil just comes off as pathetic. As Wilson feels miscast, there’s something about Rachel McAdams that bugs me, and every time the mother says “cheap is cheap” a piece of my soul dies, I was kind of miserable for the first twenty minutes.
But I stuck it out and I’m glad I did, because when Gil gets into the car the movie picks up.
Gil ends up at a party where Cole Porter is playing. Not on a radio, but a man who looks and sounds just like Porter. He’s then meets Zelda who introduces her husband Scott, they’re the Fitzgeralds, the party is for Jean Cocteau. After some awkward disbelief Gil gets drug along by the Fitzgeralds around town (Owen Wilson’s best scene is some excellent facial acting when he’s at Chez Bricktop’s you can see he thinks he’s going crazy and then accepts whatever is happening) only to end up meeting Ernest Hemingway. When he asks Hemingway for writing advice, Ernest says he’ll take Gil’s manuscript to Gertrude Stein. Excited Gil leaves the bar only to find himself standing outside a modern day laundromat.
Gil goes back and forth, the real world during the day, then walking to the corner to meet the Peugeot to return to the romantic halcyon la vie en rose-ness of his golden age at night. There he meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a costume designer studying under Coco Chanel, she’s a fellow kindred spirit who’s golden age is the 1890s.
When I was trying to think of what MiP reminded me of, it was here it hit me. Night Gallery, or Twilight Zone, or The Alfred Hitchcock hour. You know, the episodes where someone got on a phantom train that took them to the past, or willed themselves into a painting, read themselves into a book. It’s time travel fantasy. Very much this movie is fantasy. France of the movie is always beautiful never dangerous. All the historical writers and artists and the people who surround them are eccentric caricatures shown at a point when Paris was the creative center and all these people really were hanging out in each other’s circles, not people who will go on to lead mostly self destructive lives and have fallings outs over creative and personal differences.
When it comes to the ’20s scenes, there is such an excellent mix of writing and acting it’s crazy. Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway is so on it, that I would’ve known he was supposed to be Hemingway even if he hadn’t been introduced. Adrian Brody’s Salvadore Dali is ridiculously good. Either of them come close to stealing the movie. Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, they’re all just wow.
But time travel fantasy is tricky. While it frees you from the constraints of science and cause and effect (it’s a fantasy, so if you step on a butterfly it’s not going to destroy the world in a hundred years) you have to be so very careful about letting reality slip in. Later in the movie Gil finds a diary at a second hand booksellers that belonged to Adriana, and it took me right out of the movie. Not long after, while still out of synch with the movie, Gil is going to steal his fiancé’s earrings to give to Adriana and it just rubbed me all kinds of wrong. While Gil points out the lack of modern medicine as a downside of being in the past, the idea is never taken further, like, it’s never brought up that if he stays he’ll be living through World War II in a decade. Which I can forgive because someone from 2010 is so far removed from it, but Adriana would’ve already lived though World War I as a child and would have to go through it again if she goes to the 1890’s. And why doesn’t anyone notice the clothing differences between times and, and- Stupid reality bleeding into my fantasy!
Also the messages are a bit mixed. While Gil wants to be in the 1920s, Adriana wants to be in the 1890s, and for Degas and Gauguin their golden age is the Renaissance. So for everyone there is a golden age that they think is better than the present, while their present is someone else’s golden age, so you have to make your present your golden age. At the same time the only modern people who are shown as being human beings are people who live in the past like Gil, or the art historian, or the antiques dealer, and Gil still chooses Paris so I guess it’s okay to have a golden place if not a golden time. But thinking too hard, too much logic can kill fantasy.
Like I said at the beginning, I’d never heard of Midnight in Paris, much less that it had Oscar nominations and a win behind it (I’m so out of touch with the Oscars). Truly it dulled some of my enthusiasm about reviewing it. I wouldn’t call it an Oscar worthy film, and it’s nowhere near the best Woody Allen film. But I do get the feeling it was a special movie for Allen, I can’t put my finger on it, but kinda the same feeling I got of what The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus must be to Terry Gilliam.
If you’re a book, history, or art nerd like I am, I truly recommend it. If you’ve ever been a nostalgic romantic in love with the ’20s. Or just to see Corey Stoll, Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody and Michael Sheen, their parts are small but their performances are great. Just stick it out through the beginning.
- When Gil meets Ernest Hemingway, Hemingway asks Gil if he liked his “book.” That places the past timeline between 1926 and 1928.
- The Cole Porter songs at the party are ‘Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)’ and ‘You Got That Thing.’ It’s actually a pretty solid soundtrack throughout the whole movie.
- Gil giving Luis Bunuel the idea for The Exterminating Angel, and Bunuel being the ’20s version of ‘Dude, what are you talking about?’ is probably the funniest scene in the whole movie.
- Tom Hiddleston’s accent is darn near perfect. Believable American accents aren’t easy
Zelda Fitzgerald: You have a glazed look in your eye. Stunned! Stupefied! Anesthetized. Lobotomized.
Zelda Fitzgerald: I know what you’re thinkin’, ‘This is boring.’ I agree! I’m ready to move o- Let’s do Bricktop’s, Scott!
Scott Fitzgerald: Bricktop’s?
Zelda Fitzgerald: I’m bored-
Scott Fitzgerald: Bricktop’s.
Zelda Fitzgerald: He’s bored! We’re all bored.
Scott Fitzgerald: “We. Are. All. Bored.”
Scott Fitzgerald: You’ll forgive me, I’ve been mixing grain and grappa.
Ernest Hemingway: I believe that love that is true and real creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving, or not loving well, which is the same thing. And when the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face like some rhino hunters I know, or Belmonte, who’s truly brave. It is because they love with sufficient passion to push death out of their minds, until the return that it does to all men. And then you must make really good love again. Think about it.
Gil: How long have you been dating Picasso? God, did I just say that?
Man Ray: A man in love with a woman from a different era: I see a photograph!
Luis Buñuel: I see a film!
Gil: I see an insurmountable problem!
Salvador Dalí: I see rhinoceros!
Gil: You can fool me, but you cannot fool Ernest Hemingway!
If you liked this movie, try these:
- French Kiss
- Somewhere in Time
- Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
- Everyone Says I Love You
- Portrait of Jennie