My first viewing of this movie came in the theater and I must say all my original thoughts hold true after my re-viewing.
Midnight in Paris is a present day relic. At its heart it is a classic movie, a simple point and shoot that allows dialogue to shine, actors to to act, and the usual Hollywood glitz and gimmicks to be left at home. All directors have their own tendencies and put their own stamps on movies, but very few are able to have their presence felt throughout the film as strongly as Woody Allen does, which is what makes this movie so special.
From the very beginning Woody is felt. The various shots around Paris, basically moving pictures where no scripted story takes place, allow the viewers (especially those who have never been to Paris) to become enveloped by the essence that emanates from such a romanticized place, they allow the audience to feel how Woody himself presumably feels. His almost hopeless romantic mentality permeates the film and his character which, surprise, is basically a less neurotic Woody Allen (i.e. Gil, played by Owen Wilson). Clearly, like most of Woody’s films, this is going to be a highly personal experience.
What truly stands out from the film, though, is its wordiness. The dialogue is the star here. Very few scenes are without conversation and are very dialogue driven. Now it is always said that the great thing about movies is that you can see the actions take place, the old adage to “show, not tell” is best applied to movies more than anything, but very rarely is the audience not shown and told at the same time. The script feels more like a play than a movie, however it ends up being a strength of the movie as opposed to a weakness. Many scenes are well crafted and multifaceted where there is more going on than just what is going to move the story along. It feels very real, much like your actual life would be. Very rarely are there moments in life that focus on one person’s agenda, and finish once that agenda is fulfilled (unless of course you happen to be a very self-important person, in which case you’re going to love Michael Sheen’s character, Paul).
One scene in particular, about two-thirds of the way through, is very reminiscent of play that exemplifies it’s real life feel. In it Gil is about to meet his new-found love, Adriana (played by Marion Cotillard, who has officially blown up), brandishing a gift that happen to be his fiance Inez’s (Rachel McAdams, glad to know even Woody Allen can enjoy a movie like Wedding Crahsers) earrings. As he is about to leave Inez and her parents barge into the room, they were supposed to be taking a weekend trip, due to Inez’s father having heart palpitations. So here Gil is just trying to get out (especially after Inez not only notices that Gil is dressed up and smells of cologne, but also has seen the gift he has for Adriana and he plays it off as a gift for her for a later date), while also pretending to act concerned for his future in-law. Then, of course Inez finds her earrings missing and calls the front desk to report a theft by the maid, which causes Gil to panic. The camera is static for almost this entire scene (it only moves when Gil disappears to the bedroom and tears apart the package) and in fact the father, who is the least important character in this scene, is in the foreground which works as a very subtle reminder that the father could be in some actual trouble. In any case, between waiting for the doctor to arrive, Gil trying to figure out how to diffuse the earring situation while also trying to hide why he is dressed up, and Inez and her mother kibitzing about Gil’s cheap tastes and not trusting maids there is a whole heck of a lot going on in this one scene. This is a scene that is becoming endangered in current-day movies, especially those that aren’t foreign or “art-house”.
The film does have its flaws, like any do. The most apparent flaw to many is most likely the explanation, or lack thereof, in regards to how exactly Gil is being transported back in time (tada! I know, how could I not mention the fact that the main plot revolves around time travel until 750 words in?). Unfortunately the audience will either have to just accept that it is happening or be incredibly frustrated with the movie’s logistics (especially since everything else is very grounded in the “real world”). The other main flaw is the compatibility, or lack thereof (again), between the soon to be wed Gil and Inez. Not a single time in the movie is it shown that they get along, let alone get along well enough to be engaged. Almost every scene between the two “lovers” features anything from a spat to a full fledged fight, not a once does the audience see any intimate connection between Gil and Inez. One last shortcoming from the movie would be, aside from Gil, every character is almost a caricature. Whether it is the modern day “know-it-all” Paul or Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll, and yes that’s right the main plot is basically Gil hobnobbing with great artists from the 1920s), no supporting character has much depth. This isn’t necessarily a huge problem, especially with the characters from the past (as everyone only knows them through their most famous caricatures anyway), but it does somewhat detract from the movie, even if many of the caricatures are there to give Woody a pillbox to poke fun at many types of people.
Nonetheless the movie is still very good and often times hilarious. Whether it is Salvador Dali’s (Adrien Brody) fixation on rhinoceroses or Hemingway’s drunken challenge to fight, there are laughs to be had. By the end the lesson that nostalgia always muddles our judgments is learned and Gil decides to right some previous wrongs in his own past as well. Midnight in Paris is probably not the best movie of the year but because it is a well done example of an era gone by (apparently the academy did not learn the lesson within the movie) and, most likely, because this is probably Woody Allen’s swan song the academy gave it a nod in its recent trend of the expanded best picture field. It would be somewhat of a surprise if it won best picture (although this year wouldn’t be the first time the academy has used the Best Picture award as a sort of lifetime achievement award), but it should be a very strong contender for best original screenplay. Midnight in Paris deserves a sit down but may only speak to a fairly small number of the movie going whole.