I've loved this guy since I was a kid and he was a comic. When he started directing, I instantly adored his films, and not just his earlier funnier ones. When he got serious I was on board. He writes them, directs them, occasionally appears them. He is Woody Allen and his latest film is Midnight in Paris. I believe it will be my favorite of his works from the last 20 years. Tres, tres bien.
The main character, Gil (Owen Wilson) is a writer who loves Paris and romanticizes the past, particularly Paris in the Twenties. Buddy, that's me all over. But this lucky stiff gets to visit that magical era which saw the Lost Generation write and compose and drink and cavort and talk in the City of Lights.
Thus the cast of characters in Woody's 41st feature film includes Hemingway and Fitzergald (love those guys) and Picasso (I'm a fan) Cole Porter (dig him) and Luis Bunuel (I've just started watching and loving his films!). There's also Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and the wild and wacky Zelda Fitzgerald.
Folks, the casting was perfect. Kathy Bates, for one, was born to play Stein. Casting familiar historical figures is a dicey proposition as its go easy to go wrong (Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow in the Aviator anyone) but Allen and his crew nailed it and the actors came through marvelously.
On the subject of the cast, Marion Cotillard is utterly enchanting and Rachael McAdams and Michael Sheen play less than desirable folks to perfection. Oh yes, you also get Carla Bruni whose real life husband is some big mucky muck in France. As Porter might croon: Midnight in Paris is dee-lightful and dee-lovely. Hey, how can a movie set in Paris not be?
Question: is love a real, tangible experience, or is it a name we've given to feelings that are ultimately incomprehensible and ethereal? And if it is real how can we be sure that an individual experience of it is genuine and not just a desire to let ourselves go into a feeling? Movies have done a lot playing with love. Distorting, simplifying, trivializing. The instant and forever love of cinema is more a convenience for storytelling than something we're likely to experience.
Then there is love of a place. Many of us, for instance, have fallen in love with Paris. It is like a lover who is both the most beautiful and the wisest we've ever met. It's impossible to conceive of a better one. Places are less likely to let us down then people. Cities like Paris, with a reverence for the past and the vibrancy of modern times, are a good example of why this is so.
There is also a love of past eras, usually in particular places. Some people feel they were born in the wrong time period. They are being silly. I should say, we are being silly. But rationality in the face of love is to be assiduously avoided. We're not very well going to go back to those times so its a pretty harmless conceit.
I cannot adequately express my great frustration that I cannot time travel. This missing skill set has frustrated me all my life. Reading about Paris or Berlin in the Twenties is like reading about sex. It cannot compare with the real thing. We are left to rely on our imaginations. Artists like Woody Allen are a great help.
Midnight in Paris addresses love in its many forms. The longing in particular. For a person a city or an era. And our powerlessness in the face of love. We are so often at the mercy of fate or, even worse, another person, if we are to fully realize the object of our desire. But it also explores the notion of belief and surrendering to that belief. That's powerful stuff. You'll see if you see the movie, see.
What a great fortune to live here and now and to be able to see really special films like Midnight in Paris. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling it was made specifically for me. (Woody: How did you know?) I now can't wait to get back to Paris. I want to re-read all my Hemingway and Fitzgerald and continue watching Bunuel films. I want to live here and now where movies can speak to me, can validate FEELINGS and move me to respond to the inner artist.
As to a plot summary of Midnight in Paris...haven't I told you enough? I don't think too much, little more than I knew going in. See for yourself. Maybe you'll find love.
(This post is dedicated to my wife with whom I saw Midnight in Paris and with whom I'd like to spend many midnights in Paris...reading Hemingway and listening to Cole Porter and....)