Summer movie amuse-bouche: “Midnight in Paris” (2011)

6 June 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen’s surprisingly delightful film is the perfect way to enter into Summer Movie Mind: that mental state in which one doesn’t ask much from the movies except to cool down in that delicious air-conditioned dark and laugh at jokes that feel neither too challenging nor too cheap. To look at pretty people onscreen and receive a narrative resolution that works well enough. In short, this film is an amuse-bouche for summer movie watching.

There’s a line somewhere in the middle of Midnight in Paris in which our hero, Gil (Owen Wilson: why didn’t I ever notice what a good, better-looking Woody Allen he is?) tries to explain his love of cities. They’re better than stories, better than films, he explains — because they’re alive. In every neighborhood, around every corner you find something new, alive. He’s so exactly right on this score, and so reminiscent of Allen at his much-missed best, that the film does double duty: it also makes you want to schedule in a week in a great international city.

In this case he’s trying to explain his love of Paris — and if there’s anyone capable of convincing you to love a city, it’s Woody Allen. Those of us who forget everything that was annoying about Manhattan (by which I mean Woody Allen dating the 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway) do so because of the way it’s a love story to the city of New York. This one is even more delightful — because Allen and his Gil stand-in are both outsiders to the city of Paris, thereby drawing all of us in as compatriots. Whereas his New York movies always give me the teeniest barb, as if they’re trying to tell me I can never truly understand the city like a native, this one is just like the most perfect European vacation you can imagine.

The film is really a tale of how Gil finds himself — and the minute he meets Marion Cotillard as Adriana, we know that things have got to get better. She’s a beautiful woman who’s just as prone to romanticizing the past as Gil is — now Cotillard is one of those female actors who make me fall in love with them the minute they appear. But  the whole cast of bit characters are pitch-perfect delight, not least of whom is Adrien Brody in a short part.

I don’t know about you, but I have a feast of summer movies ahead of me: there’s the new X-Men: First Class, and then Harry Potter and Mike Mills’ Beginners (when, oh when, will this arrive at my local theater??), Larry Crowne (JustMeMike and I are planning another long conversation about it!), and Captain America, which I’m only going to see because my Dear Friend has been pumping up enthusiasm so effectively. And there are the weightier films — I’m so excited about Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life that I can barely speak; and then there’s the possibility I’ll get access to some of those other films we heard about via the Cannes Film Festival, such as The Artist and We Need to Talk About Kevin. In short, our movie waistlines will engorge with empty calories. Why not start with the perfect amuse-bouche: Woody Allen at his best in years.

13 Responses to “Summer movie amuse-bouche: “Midnight in Paris” (2011)”

  1. tam Says:

    Actually, I loved Vicky Christina Barcelona, a lot, even though Scarlett Johansson annoyed the hell out of me. Rebecca Hall was a surprise, and Penelope Cruz and Javier Barden blew it out of the water!

    Now Barcelona is in my top 5 destinations to visit soon.

    • Didion Says:

      Oh, you know I’d forgotten about that one. And actually Barcelona is currently my #1 top international destination … maybe I need to hunt down a list of films set in that city to get even more in the mood.

      I’d watch Penelope Cruz paint a room.

      • tam Says:

        In which case I hope you’ve already experienced Volver 🙂

        She’s a wonder when she’s acting in Spanish. She’s like a natural phenomenon that you put in a room, shine the lights on her and watch her burst forth into flower!

        Makes me think of her friend Salma Hayek too. How she nurture the film Frida into existence and gloriously put her heart and soul into it.

      • Didion Says:

        Volver! It’s the best ever I’ve seen her act — but this is a helpful reminder to get all those other Spanish — and especially Almodovar-directed — films onto my Netflix queue. She’s all woman, and I mean that in the best possible way.

  2. JustMeMike Says:

    Now I’m jealous – Midnight in Paris is nowhere near Sarasota, so I’m in the cinematic wasteland that you described. On the other hand I have been to Barcelona, and spent a whole week there. While it isn’t Paris – it is definitely worth seeing.

    Thanks for the enjoyable write-up of MiP.


    • Didion Says:

      I’ve been to Barcelona too, but my memory of it is such a haze of 22-year-old drunkenness (and I was only there for about 48 hrs) that I’ve decided it’s really time to return and take a closer look. I’m thinking December.

      Mike, you most certainly need to see the film but only if it comes within easy striking distance of Sarasota — the film is as light as air (in a good way) but isn’t worth a long drive, if you ask me. I’m surprised — Sarasota sounds to me like such an impressively good movie city.

      There are hardly any films set in Barcelona, at least as far as I can see. I’ve put En la Ciudad (2002) on my Netflix queue…you know, to amuse the palate.

  3. servetus Says:

    Totally into Owen Wilson. It is probably the nose.

    • Didion Says:

      Oh his nose is the BEST, especially in combination with that unusual mouth. And that strange accent (which has something to do with Texas, but not in the usual way that inflects his brothers’ speech). I still have happy memories of his apartment — with all that bizarre art — from The Royal Tennenbaums.

  4. Z Says:

    I seem to have had a great youth, as I spent over a year in Barcelona, before it was cleaned up for the Olympics and the EU … in the same era I had a job in Paris, Librairie Gallimard, Boulevard Raspail, that was hilarious. I guess these are some reasons why Maringouin here isn’t quite meeting my needs.

    Anyway, to topic: I saw this in Houston and I thought the best thing about it was the theatre it was in (the River Oaks, which opened in 1939 and has a bar). This review makes me appreciate it more.

    But Paris movies: Diva, and When the Cat’s Away, both so Paris and also light and summery, I really recommend.

    • Didion Says:

      Diva! When the Cat’s Away! loved them. I really must go on a Paris movie jag, as there are far too few Barcelona films to meet my needs.

      Clearly you *did* have a great youth! but there’s something to be said for the small town, yes? Even if it’s a town named for mosquitoes.

  5. Z Says:

    I think the reason I couldn’t relate to this Allen movie was that here in Maringouin, we’re in the oil corridor. The Exxon execs and their families all really do go on trips to Paris like this, with private tours of the Louvre, formal dinners at Mont St. Michel, etc., and their kids, if rebellious, are like the Owen character … so it seemed all too real and/but so, so touristy, so far through the looking-glass.

    Seeing it in Houston where I did, which is of course in Bush Sr.’s neighborhood if I am not mistaken, I think a lot of the audience was relating because of tourism experiences like these … and I was thinking of what it is probably like to serve on the school board with them, things like that. I’m all too serious!

  6. I had a ton of problems with the film – NOT Paris, though.

    The women are all made of cardboard, although Pender’s wife and future mother-in-law were EVIL cardboard. About Cotillard, all he could say was that she is “lovely.” And Gertrude Stein is portrayed as boring. Really, wth?

    Allen refuses to deal w/the fact that many of the 20’s writers/painters had seriously tragic later lives an/or ends. Pender would know that. It is just never mentioned, but how much deeper and better a movie it would have been if he had.

    • Didion Says:

      You’re totally right, of course. But then, it’s been a while since we’ve gotten non-cardboard women from Woody. (Vicki Cristina Barcelona might have been the last time.) I didn’t really see this as a film about people so much as it was a film about Paris; but perhaps I’m willing to forgive its faults because it’s so much better than Woody’s recent fare.

      I didn’t find the Gertrude Stein to be portrayed as boring…maybe it’s because I always find Kathy Bates to be so completely watchable.

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