06 September 2011

Midnight in Paris

Strolling the streets of 1920s Paris in Midnight in Paris.

Confession. I waited a long time to see Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris because I was apprehensive about the depiction of the artists of the Lost Generation. Since I was a teenager, I’ve been enamored with the 1920s and the Lost Generation. So much so that I went to graduate school to study the literature (I wrote about Hemingway). And while I’m a fan of Woody Allen’s and knew he was fond of the Lost Generation I was still a bit wary. But after seeing the film I’m happy to report that Allen did not disappoint.

Midnight in Paris is the story of Gil (Owen Wilson), a Hollywood screenwriter who is visiting Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. While the others don’t seem to particularly care that they're in Paris, Gil is simply enchanted. Trying to write a novel that will hopefully get him out of the screenwriting game, he looks for inspiration in the city where his favourite writers once lived. One night he wanders off alone, slightly drunk, and gets lost. At midnight, a vintage Peugeot pulls up with a group of revelers dressed in 1920s clothing who invite Gil to come with them to a party. He accepts and is whisked off to a house where a familiar looking man is at the piano singing a Cole Porter song. Gil is then introduced to a couple named Scott and Zelda. Wait a minute. What?

 Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald in the film.

Turns out Gil’s nostalgia for the past has somehow brought him back in time to his favourite era where he meets and has discussions with the writers he admires. Later he and Adriana (Marion Cotillard), the beautiful mistress of Picasso who Gil falls for, travel even further back in time to her favourite era—the Belle Époque. Allen’s message seems to be that everyone always thinks that the golden age is in the past and never the present.

Allen also asks you to suspend your disbelief. Gil appears to time travel and doesn't question it, and Allen asks the audience to do the same. Explanations on how it all physically happens are not forthcoming and it doesn’t really matter because it’s all so much damn fun. Oh to be able to visit Paris in the 1920s.

Hemingway gives some advice.

As for the writers and artists of the Lost Generation? For the most part, the film does a bang up job. There were a couple of moments when Hemingway (Corey Stoll) threatened to cross over into parody (the actor by the way looked perfect) and Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill) looked too young but F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston who also looked perfect), Dali (a brilliant cameo by Adrian Brody), and Gertrude Stein (who I’ve always disliked but Kathy Bates did a fine job nonetheless) were great. I also love how Allen included real places like Chez Bricktop and references that were like inside jokes for fans of the Lost Generation (Gil to T.S. Eliot: “Where I come from, we measure out our lives in Coke spoons”).

Gil and Inez visit Givenry.

As for the others, Wilson was better than I thought he would be as the wide-eyed Gil, Rachel McAdams was fine as the materialistic Inez given that there wasn’t a whole lot to work with, and Michael Sheen as Inez’s college friend played the pompous ass to perfection. And then there’s Marion Cotillard who is lovely and sad and just so good. I think she’s turning out to be a favourite actress of mine. And don't forget the costumes. Sigh. If only we could all dress that way. 

Marion Cotillard as Adriana.

But, of course the real star of the film is Paris itself, the greatest inspiration of all, which always seems wonderful no matter what the time period.

Photos by Roger Arpajou/Sony Pictures Classics.

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