Sunday, June 12, 2011

Midnight in Paris (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Midnight in Paris

"Midnight in Paris" is Woody Allen's personal fairy tale. For all its pristine Parisienne romanticism, its folksy cafes, its immaculate boulevards and its sparkling rain spattered streets, the setting may as well be Allen's beloved Manhattan Village. Like "Sesame Street" this a cutesy vision. There is no dischord here, no dirt, no homeless beggars or grime. This is Allen's Disney.
So begins this light Summer Idyll, as close to eye candy as Woody Allen gets.

Gil (Owen Wilson) plays a conflicted screenwriter about to get married to an energetic blonde Inez (Rachel McAdams). There is only one obstacle as this is a Woody Allen film: Gil is more interested in the bohemian history of Paris than the social flutterings of his fiancee.

During one family outing he begs off and wanders the historic Paris streets. Bells chime. A ghostly yellow auto from the 1920s arrives. Gil's adventure begins.

Here is Scott (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (Alison Pill), Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). Gil is hesitant and bumbling, but he shows a boyish charm and just like Allan Felix in 1972's "Play It Again, Sam", Gil is at home when talking to living ghosts. Gil becomes consumed with showing his novel to Hemingway, who spouts off automatic passages from his well known novels. He says things like "grace under pressure" and talks about death and bullfighting. He seems little more than a self important hologram. But this is part of the fun. Ernest is so earnest in his dialogue that he makes for many chuckles. As does the amphetamine butterfly Zelda and the anguished Scott.

Adrien Brody plays Dali who appears to have the most fun with his rolling Rs and ecstatic eyes. Yes, it is a bestiary of antique celebrities, all of whom are only slightly more than caricature and some past artists are mere doodles, but it is sincere and heartfelt doodling. Easy on the eyes.

When Gil gets back to the present, neurotic conflict ensues. He wants to stay and write while Inez only wants to go from event to event accompanied by the know- it-all- square, Paul (Michael Sheen) who echoes the roles usually played by Tony Roberts. There is also a Republican father along with the status seeking mother of Inez thrown into the mix, providing the duly beloved comic tension. But it does seem as if we know what's coming before it happens. Such is Allen's anxious and folksy oeuvre that now is a cartoon within a cartoon. The style is so well travelled that we laugh anyway, given that this legendary auteur is so light and fast with his bohemian belly-laughs.

"Midnight in Paris" is indeed light fare. At times it even seems like this might be Allen's take on "Night at The Museum" given the sheer number of celebrities sketched about without any real conflicts. Yet it remains Owen Wilson's self deprecating performance throughout, coupled with his spaced out manner that makes this film and Paris in the Twenties worthwhile, if only for a brief trifle in time.

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1 comment:

Bill Iddings said...

Say what you will about Woody Allen, he doesn’t forget his past.
Makes you wonder if, in “Midnight in Paris,” Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein punch the Woodman’s alter ego in the mouth.
The late Papa and Stein are two characters from way back when who pop up in “Midnight in Paris” So do F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, as well as artist Salvador Dali, and how surreal is that.
Allen’s been there before. “The Lost Generation,” a standup comedy monologue he performed live in 1965, “recalled” (my sarcasm) his supposed Parisian encounters “many years ago” (his words) with Hemingway, Stein and the Fitzgeralds.
He threw in Picasso and the Spanish bullfighter Manolete for good measure. In the span of a few minutes, Allen described getting punched in the mouth three times by Hemingway, who indeed was quite the brawler and whose writing style Allen mimicked in “The Lost Generation,” and once by Stein who indeed was quite the tough cookie.
To underscore how serious the whole thing wasn’t, an excerpt: “Francis Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald came home from their wild new years eve party. It was April. Scott had just written ‘Great Expectations,’ and Gertrude Stein and I read it, and we said it was a good book, but there was no need to have written it, because Charles Dickens had already written it. We laughed over it, and Hemingway punched me in the mouth.”
Dali somehow got left out of the sketch, but that’s neither here nor there, whatever that means.
Reaching into the past is nothing new for Woody Allen. His 1983 mockumentary “Zelig” placed his title character, played by Allen himself, in the pre-”Forrest Gump” company of such historical figures as Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, Charlie Chaplin, Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, a variety of Nazis and baseball immortals Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.
The premise for Allen’s 1991 film “Shadows and Fog,” which received scathing reviews even though one present-day blogger I can think really liked it, was born in a short story Allen wrote many years before.
The point of all this is that the release of a new Woody Allen movie is an occasion, a time of anticipation when West Michiganganders who really care about good movies resume carping about when, if ever, a film that everybody’s talking about will be coming to a theater near them.
“Midnight in Paris” is Allen’s 44th flick, quite a body of work for a guy who has a ton of other stuff on his proverbial plate.
The reviews of “Midnight in Paris” are some of the best in Allen’s career,. That’s saying something for an artist who’s already given us “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Sleeper,” “Bananas,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Radio Days,” blah, blah, blah.
When I finally get around to seeing “Midnight in Paris,” I might wander into the lobby and expound, as Allen in “The Lost Generation” did about Picasso painting “a picture of a naked dental hygienist in the middle of the Gobi Desert,” on the merits of his latest.
Maybe I’ll think it’s a good movie, but not a great one, and it could be a fine film, and laugh over it, and someone will punch me in the mouth.