I would never qualify myself as a Woody Allen fan. I respect his writing and his neuroses honesty, I appreciate his dedication to consistently trying to come up with new ideas, but on the whole, I have only really seen 3 of his movies that I can think of. Maybe only 2 and a half at that. In fact, now that I've just looked up his repertoire on IMDB, I can really only claim to have seen Annie Hall and Hannah And Her Sisters. I'll admit, this is a shortcoming of mine. Once someone finally sat me down to watch Annie Hall, I was impressed; when I heard Max Von Sydow utter the line "If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he'd never stop throwing up" I was jealous. Perhaps this is why I don't watch more Woody Allen, the inherent, bitter pill that's a home grown cocktail of jealousy and inadequacy. It's hard to feel like you still want to write when you sometimes wonder if all the good lines have already been written.
That said, Midnight In Paris is a movie for writers, and a movie for dreamers, and, as such, is easily his most accessible film for me. For a film whose running time is only 94 minutes, there's quite a bit packed into this highly imaginative yarn, if you'll allow the word, because really that's what it is.
Midnight In Paris is the story of what happens when you get the most envy-inducing case of cold feet ever put to celluloid. Gil (Owen Wilson) is a writer and wannabe novelist. I know that might sound redundant to some, but if there weren't definitions and categories, where would a Woody Allen film be left to wander? Even then, Gil doesn't want to simply be a novelist, he wants his writing to be art. He yearns for his version of the golden years of Paris, the rainy, roaring 20s where vagabond art communities popped up around cafes during the day and galavanted where the champagne flowed at night. Gil's fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams) is his polar opposite, intent only on reality, and beyond that, devoid of any actual understanding of art or the nomadic spirit. Inez and her parents are wealthy, privileged, self-appointed intellectuals whose appreciation of the world is limited to catch phrases, comfort and material possessions. In other words, Allen's heightened idea of the embodiment of today's society. Their scenes are all shot in the daytime, and are increasingly annoying, bordering on grating. It's no wonder that Gil prefers his surprising, and yet, welcomed escape into his world of 20s Paris, courtesy of what can most easily be described as a magical car, every night as the clock strikes 12.
What happens after midnight is Gil's fairy tale world comes to life. He drinks with F. Scott Fitzgerald, receives life lessons from Ernest Hemingway and editing notes from Gertrude Stein. It's all shot with a warm glowing soft light, the kind of light that happens when the neon fades away and the streetlamps come on. More and more, this is the world that draws us in, and I actually found myself dreading the moments when Gil had to return to the real world, pained at the thought of him ever having to relinquish his imaginary world passport.
It's cringingly clear just how unhappy Gil is in the choices he's made in his life, and yet, he seems resigned to the idea that this is the way things go. He seems to feel that logical decisions are required despite the knowledge that life, at its essence, is illogical. The foundations of his world start to crack when he meets a beautiful Parisian ingenue named Adriana (Marion Cotillard) who arrived in 1920s Paris as a fashion student and found her true calling as a muse to some of the greatest artists of the century. Slowly, but surely, the things that Gil really wants out of life begin to emerge from his reliable exterior.
There is something wonderful about the fairy tale aspect of this film that allows for all of these delightfully quirky characters (because, as we see them, through Gil's eyes, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, and the rest are all at their stereotypical 2-dimensional personas, particularly the flamboyant Dali, and therefore characters) to fill his world with the equivalent of an intellect's pop culture references. And yet, while it's sophisticated to a point, Midnight In Paris has become Allen's most successful film to date probably because at it's heart, it's about something everyone can relate to: the desire to be successful at what it is we want our lives to be. Not everyone wants to run away to Paris and live the life of an artist, but everyone, at some point, has been faced with the choice to raise the stakes or call, and it's that decision that changes everyone's life, no matter what decision they make. Perhaps a better understanding of the question isn't "to be or not to be" but instead "to regret or not regret". While the ending wraps up a little neatly for the questions it raised (for me), I'll forgive it, since it was such a fun, thoughtful, engaging journey. And because I'm always a fan of a slightly new take on a fairy tale. It's sheer escapism for the cultured masses, and even more enjoyable for those people who can laugh at the cultured masses while sipping coffee and figuring out how best to daydream their time away.