Midnight in Paris (2010)
Woody Allen is something of a paradox. Long before awkwardness became a staple of comedy, Allen typified the gawkish but self-confident character now spun off into Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seth Rogan’s films. There was always something charming about him – self-certified intellectuals wanted to be him and women apparently wanted to be with him (or so said his screenplays).
Yet how does a rootless New York Jew, unattractive and in the distinctly unintellectual business of movies claim satisfaction? That is the tension at the heart of Midnight in Paris, a film about nostalgia, self-fulfilment and place.
The place is Paris; the protagonist is Owen Wilson’s Gil, successfully giving voice to Allen’s own insecurities as he attempts to write his first novel after a lifetime in movies; and the nostalgia is for 1920s Paris, where the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway and Cole Porter tore around in Model Ts from bistro to gin joint and artists, writers and musicians congregated around Gertrude Stein. It is to this world that Wilson’s character escapes each night from his humdrum holiday with his shallow Republican fiancé.
Many of the historical characters are comic foil – brilliantly so in the case of Hemingway and Adrien Brody’s Salvador Dali – or allow Gil to get one over on Michael Sheen’s know-it-all competitor for his fiancé’s affections. Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard, is more deceptive. Apparently the siren tempting Gil out of his reality, she is herself a lost figure, wishing herself back to Bell Époque Paris.
The film works well because it riffs on comfortable stereotypes. The vulgar American tourists could have come out of Edith Warton, and the chic, hedonistic Parisian lifestyle is lovingly re-imagined – especially when you are within walking distance of Westfield (the anti-Paris). The film opens with shots of everyday Paris and ends on the Pont Alexandre III at night. Hardly any scene in between is not lovely to behold.
But the best that can be said about Midnight in Palace is not that it is pretty or jolly. Fairly unusually for a Woody Allen film, it is interesting and even marginally unsettling. As a creative work, it would be a fine end to a memorable career. That said, the likelihood that Woody will simply walk away from movies is low. When a man is tired of telling his own jokes and surrounding himself with beautiful women, he is tired of life indeed.