Because the Academy Award nominations are out, this means that they are screening everything that has been nominated, and now is the time to see movies that I missed last year and see again the ones that I loved. Midnight in Paris goes in the former category–I don’t know what I was doing when it screened in the first place, whether I was in Santa Fe or walking dogs or what, but somehow I missed it. And boy am I glad I caught up with it!
Midnight in Paris is about Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter (Owen Wilson), in Paris on vacation with his fiancee Inez, (Rachel McAdams), and her parents. Gil is a dreamer who idolizes the past and wants to write novels and live in Paris, Inez wants to live in Malibu with her screenwriter husband, and Gil really needs to stop faffing about. They spend time with her awful parents and worse friends (Michael Sheen is bah-rill-yunt as a charming know-it-all) Then, one night, Gil is walking the streets of Paris a little drunk and, when midnight strikes, an old car pulls up and Gil gets in, and he’s in Paris in the ’20s and meets Scott and Zelda and Hemingway and everything is just the way Gil dreamed it!
This is a completely charming movie, very much in the style of Annie Hall, especially in the sections where Gil is surrounded by people he doesn’t particularly like. I expected him to turn to the camera while Michael Sheen’s character is confidently giving slightly wrong information about Rodin and Picasso, and say, “Well, I happen to have Marshall McLuhan right here!” This doesn’t make it a rip-off one bit, just familiar in a comfortable way, while surrounded by a completely original story. It’s like an old friend coming home after a long time away, and boy are you glad to see them.
The thing which is great about Midnight in Paris is that it’s for people who know a lot about the period and the historical characters, and also for those who don’t. It doesn’t explain too much, and when a man says, “Hi, I’m Tom, Tom Elliot,” and Gil answers “T.S. Elliot! Prufrock is my mantra!” (hey, maybe when Jeff Goldblum had forgotten his mantra in Annie Hall, Gil found it!), it makes sense that he would. If T.S. Elliot walked up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Tom, Tom Elliot,” I assume I’d answer, “T.S. Elliot? Really?” and not because I’m in a movie and need to explain things to the audience, but because, holy cow, it’s T.S. Elliot! On the other hand, at one point he’s dancing the Charleston with Djuna Barnes, and when he finds out it’s her, he says “No wonder she wanted to lead!” That’s for the fans, darling, though one can infer from the context that it’s a lesbian reference.
Now, this is my era, I know these people, I got all the jokes, and I flat out loved it every time someone would show up that I knew. The scene with the Surrealists is my favourite, thems my peeps and I died laughing; I think it’s the kind of thing that is funny for everybody, but especially funny if you are intimate with the work of the artists involved. And anybody who thinks that Adrien Brody was over-playing Dali has never seen any footage of Dali, because that’s freakin’ Dali! If Dali could move in and out of time and saw this movie, he would say, “Is me! DaLI!”
The funniest thing in the whole movie, though, bar nobody, was Hemingway, played by Corey Stoll. This one of the more perfect combinations of writer, character and actor. Woody Allen writes perfect cod Hemingway, so much so that Mom asked if his dialogue was all quotes from his books, and Corey Stoll manages to inhabit the words and the style and make it sound natural and meaningful, but you are also laughing your ears off because my goodness gracious, is that ever Hemingway to the life!
I haven’t even mentioned the wonderful performance by Marion Cotillard as Adriana, Picasso’s lover and model, who meets Gil and he finds in her a kindred spirit, though she lives over 80 years away from him. She and Owen Wilson are terrific together, and her glowing spirit inhabits the film’s heart.
It is never explained how this rift in time exists, thank goodness, because nothing will flatten a cream puff faster than dropping a dictionary on it. Mom, a consummate cream puff-smasher, asked me at home, “But how did he get back to the ’20s?” “Because it’s Paris!” I answered, and I realized that that was probably the reason.
Welcome back, Woody. You have been missed.