by KARA VANDERBIJL
Midnight in Paris
dir. Woody Allen
Midnight in Paris captures the reverberating warmth of the only place in the world that meets all of your expectations by kissing them fondly on both cheeks. As with all places you have never or only rarely been to, the images feel prehistoric, frozen in a time and place well outside of our hectic present.
Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) bicker about whether not they should move to Paris. They have just accompanied Inez’s parents on a business trip, and Gil — whose career has been successful and entirely unsatisfying — hopes to find inspiration for his first novel. Inez finds his pipe dreams of living in a Left Bank garret and becoming a novelist completely ludicrous.
Tension only increases when Gil and Inez meet up with some of Inez’s friends, Carol (Nina Arianda) and Paul (Michael Sheen), a pedantic asshole who belittles Gil at every opportunity. None of his companions want anything to do with Gil’s Paris — a city that nursed the creativity of his literary heroes — although they have quite a bit to appreciate about the Paris that can be consumed for the price of a museum ticket.
Inez wanders in and out of antique shops, devours profiteroles in restaurants. Her continual disagreements with Gil color all of their scenes together — even during a kiss, she whispers, “You wouldn’t want to do that, would you?”
One night, while Gil strolls alone through the streets, a group of friendly Parisians invite him into a vintage Peugeot and take him to a party across town, in the 1920s. Believing it to be a costume party, Gil laughs in the face of a very sincere Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill) and Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), who is pretty enough but definitely not as obnoxious as he probably was in real life.
Within five minutes Gil believes that he has actually traveled back to the Paris of his fantasies and learns that when the Fitzgeralds offer you a drink, it is best not to refuse. Allen gets us to hate Inez quite rapidly because she hates Paris, and who hates Paris? Gil refuses to address the growing problems in his relationship, opting instead to invite his fiancée along on his escape from reality. It is no wonder that Inez cheats on him with Paul, who, unlike Gil, has evolved past a ninth grade reading level.
Owen Wilson is Gil Pender is Woody Allen, the least Woody Allen of all Woody Allens not played by Woody himself. Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) is absolutely ridiculous in every way we would expect Hemingway to be ridiculous, stringing monosyllabic words together in quick succession and going on about how much he wants to fight. Adrien Brody cameos as Salvador Dali. Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) seems to like Gil’s novel a little bit more than she actually would have. Midnight in Paris comes off as an overblown English major’s wet dream.
Gil steals Inez’s pearl earrings to give to Adriana (Marion Cotillard) and spends far too much time lying to Inez, whose father has hired a private detective to monitor Gil’s comings and goings. It is all a lot like Match Point, except Gil steals Pablo Picasso’s girlfriend and then he does not have to kill her in the end because she is already dead.
Inez, Adriana, and an alluring little ingénue named Gabrielle (Lea Seydoux) direct Gil’s experience in Paris, over which he progressively loses control. When Gil asks her what she has been up to, Gabrielle smiles and replies, "Dinner with friends."
Allen slowly narrows the scope of his story little by little — from the grandiose lights of the Tower to a string of bulbs hanging in a narrow alley — until it is possible that a world containing Montmartre and La Place de l’Opera should also contain an American screenwriter and his fiancée on a bridge, overlooking the lily pond that in all likelihood engendered the entire Impressionist movement.
Like all Woody Allen doubles, Gil is afraid of death, and we get the impression that settling into a future with Inez will be the end of him. Since settling is inevitable, you might as well settle in the present, where the worst thing that can happen to you is getting caught in the rain.
My Favorite Movies
by WOODY ALLEN
When I awake during the night, to quell my existential panic I make lists in my mind. This sometimes helps me fall back asleep. Almost always the lists are of movies - adding and subtracting titles, substituting. My tastes seem to me unremarkable except in the area of talking plot comedies where I seem to have little tolerance for anything and certainly not my own films.
Fifteen of Woody Allen's Favorite American Films In No Particular Order
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Paths of Glory
The Godfather: Part II
A Streetcar Named Desire
The Maltese Falcon
Twelve of My Favorite European Films And Three Favorite Japanese Films
The Seventh Seal
The Bicycle Thief
The 400 Blows
Rules of the Game
Throne of Blood
Cries and Whispers
The Seven Samurai
(Note: If we take Citizen Kane from the top list and put it in the second list, this would be my list of the best films ever made.)
Silent comedies are all taken up by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
I put comedies in two categories - comedian's films which can be awful save for the comedian's work and comedy movies that have plots. Of the comedian's films or broader sillier films that I always laugh at are:
A Night at the Opera
A Day at the Races
You Can't Cheat an Honest Man
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break
Casanova's Big Night
Of talking plot comedies, I'm hesitant to say my list because my taste is eccentric and there are any number of comedies I love that would make me seem foolish or should I say, foolish in the eyes of the world. Plus there are any number of iconic comedies that never have and never will give me a laugh and I don't like to hurt the feelings of anyone who turns such a tough dollar making screen comedies or even their descendants.
I will admit my list is always topped by The White Sheik, and when I think of American comedies my conviction is that no finer ones exist than Born Yesterday and Trouble in Paradise. Also The Shop Around the Corner is pretty damned good (I get a lot of fishy looks when I tell people I think Born Yesterday is the best all-time American stage comedy but it's the way I feel. A close second is The Front Page, the play.) After the above four, my insomnia list gets dicey for public consumption with a few predictable choices but many very personal ones. Incidentally, my list never includes my own comedies.
From a note to Eric Lax.
"United" - Pete and the Pirates (mp3)
"New Year" - FM Belfast (mp3)
"Dreaming" - Seapony (mp3)
The Best of Woody Allen on This Recording:
Emily Gould on Manhattan
Alex Carnevale on Mighty Aphrodite
Pauline Kael on Interiors
Sarah LaBrie on Match Point
Yvonne Georgina Puig on Crimes and Misdemeanors
Tyler Coates on Annie Hall
Julie Klausner on Hannah and Her Sisters
Molly Lambert on Woody's sequels
Joan Didion versus Woody Allen
Karina Wolf on Woody's New York
Durga Chew-Bose on Mariel Hemingway