Midnight In Paris has been out for ages and it’s been sitting on my hard drive for ages. Why I took so long to summon up the muscle to watch it bewilders me. I think it was somehow because I saw it mentioned in someone’s Facebook feed or someshit and I thought it’d caught onto some hipster bs. Then I remembered that all I do is hipster bs. Or maybe it was because Owen Wilson is the protagonist and I keep seeing Jackie Chan’s nose when I look at him. I never figured he’d fit a romantic comedy written by Woody Allen. Now that I’ve actually watched the film, I reckon he might’ve been the perfect fit. You don’t actually want someone handsome or dashing or suave. You want a dude with a bit of child like naivete in his voice and an idealistic tone, not an actor’s actor or someone completely serious.
Judging from the title alone, I knew I could expect that the city of Paris itself would be one of the stars of the show, much like how New York was in 1979’s Manhattan. What I didn’t know, however, was that there would be time travel involved. I never read the synopsis or watched the trailer. All I did was read the title and see that image of Owen Wilson walking under Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I got straight up fooled and that in itself is real movie magic, when you fall in love with the fantasy.
Wilson’s Gil Pender is engaged to Inez, who’s played by Rachel McAdams, expertly cast again as the perfect spoilt white rich girl. They go to Paris with Inez’s staunchly Republican father and hooty tooty mother. Right off the bat, the free spirited Gil seems an absurd match for this family. He just looks completely out of place and destined for something else. He’s a struggling writer who makes a good living writing scripts for Hollywood, which is easy, but he dreams of being more like his idols F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway, a novelist. Instead, he has to deal with Inez’s friend Paul (Micheal Sheen), who’s the most stuck up dickwad of a character you’ll ever meet. Paul ridicules Gil’s penchant for a more nostalgic “golden age”, Paris in the 20s. He reckons “Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in – its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”. He also tries to argue with fucking Carla Bruni, who appears as a tour guide to the Rodin museum. She’s sooo hot. How the fuck is she 44? She could be standing on a stage with a sash and crown and telling me she believes in world peace and I’d follow her to hell and back.
Anyway, so Gil drinks a little and decides that he’s gonna hit the sack whilst Inez and Paul and Paul’s wife Carol go dancing. How obvious is it at this point that Inez wants to fuck Paul and vice versa. Women always go for the asshole. Meanwhile, Gil opts to walk back to the hotel but ends up lost. He traipses round Paris at night, clearly lonely, clearly lost and sits down on some steps until a really old looking car stops and it’s occupants invite him in. He ends up at a party where he meets his aforementioned idol, Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda and Cole Porter is playing “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love” and later Josephine Baker then the very poetic Hemingway in a salon. At first Gil is wondering wtf just happened but the Fitzgeralds bring him around and he kinda just falls into it. He’s somehow got time warped into his favourite time and place, 1920s Paris. Hemingway asks Gil to hand him his novel to pass onto Gertrude Stein to proofread. So Gil is delighted, walks out of the salon then wonders how he’s gonna contact him again so he tries to walk back but finds he’s back in the real world, back in the numbingly boring present standing outside a laundromat.
Apparently, if you sit on some random steps in Paris at midnight, you can time travel, which is what Gil does once he realizes how the trick works. He meets more and more illustrious people, from Allen’s idol Bunuel to people like Dali (who has a rhino fetish) and Matisse and Man Ray and T.S Eliot. He also meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who happens to be Picasso’s mistress and falls in love with her. At this point, the conflicts within Gil are fully revealed and there this amazing juxtaposition of the past and the present with fantasy and reality and importantly, with Gil’s indecision over whether to live as he wants to or as he thinks he needs to.
I like how the fantasy element of the film is just a really big metaphor for the fantasies that plague our own minds. We’re drawn towards nostalgia, towards our dreams but we’re unfortunately held back by reality, or maybe we think we are. I also really liked how the pacing of the film lulled you into that fantasy of 1920s Paris and lulled you into following Gil’s ultimate self actualization as we reach the rather upbeat ending. The climax of the film is probably the scene where Gil time travels whilst he’s time travelled, from the 20s to the turn of the century and he meets Toulouse Lautrec, Degas and Gaugain and it’s this scene that’s kinda like the image within an image thing which is very cool for me. It’s like some kinda for a split second Gil is in this endless mirrored reflection possibility situation where he has to choose whether to keep pining for a nostalgia he’s never experienced or to live life to its fullest in reality.
The love for the city is there (in the opening sequence) and the way Allen frames the shots, you get this sense of beauty and wonder and that little bit of magic that sparkled from the Parisian streets. Midnight is really very close to Allen’s own The Purple Rose Of Cairo from 1985. The main protagonists are similarly idealistic dreamers stuck in an everyday grind that they know they abhor but somehow seem to be resigned to. Then there’s the obvious fantasy elements in both. The time travelling in MIP is reminiscent of how Gil Sheperd (same first name) breaks the fourth wall literally, jumping from reel to real life. In feel and in spirit, these films are similar.
It’s actually a really good Woody Allen movie, Midnight is. It’s also nice that it’s the kinda of film that you can say is a Woody Allen movie, the slightly off beat romantic comedy. Well it’s harsh to call it a romantic comedy because you think people laugh watching it and people kiss in it. I mean, that shit happens in the film but it’s not the romance between the characters that matters one bit. There’s a love story plot but it’s the romantic perspective on life itself that dominates. It’s more so a story of self discovery perhaps or one of self realisation; a comparison of fact and fiction, which is why I think Midnight is pretty much the second bestest Allen movie evar! After Annie Hall of course. At this point, I’m wondering if Ingmar Bergman made a movie with such a romantic philosophical view on life, something so bright and cheery.
If you watch the trailer, it looks like a really shitty comedy with the worst lines but it’s really not. Instead, I think it’s much better to see the following clips of Carla Bruni and Lea Seydoux instead. Massive spoilers obviously. Skip to 1:53 for the last one.