‘Midnight in Paris’: An extended SNL sketch

Woody Allen is old. This is not an affront to the man, but a simple, insurmountable fact. He was 42 when he made his best film Annie Hall. 42! The start of career senescence for many an actress.

Woody Allen is old and it shows. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, overpraised in the manner every recent Woody Allen film has been, was bogged down by anachronistic language. I’ll never forget Chris Messina as Rebecca Hall’s bumbling fiance, talking about how he bashed someone’s brains out at bridge.  The characters don’t have sex with each other, they ‘go to bed’ with each other. The only compelling parts of the film are the ones where, mercifully, the characters don’t speak English.

Midnight in Paris, Allen’s latest cinematic love affair with a European city, suffers from the same problem. But not only is the dialogue petrified in ’70s colloquialisms, the characters are drawn so crudely and the storyline so predictable, the film takes on the air of a parody–  bad parody. It’s like an SNL sketch that goes on too long, an intriguing premise that doesn’t deliver.

Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a Hollywood screen writer trying to write a novel. He’s the consummate Woody Allen stand-in, a neurotic romantic with a tremendous respect and appreciation for the Paris of the ’20s. (And just in case, Wilson’s nostalgic streak hasn’t adequately been conveyed to the audience, the protagonist in Gil’s novel works at a nostalgia shop.)

Gil is in Paris,  ‘freeloading’ as Inez (Rachel McAdams) his fiance puts it. Her parents are in town for business and have invited the couple to come along. As they visit various tourist attractions, they run into Paul and Carol Bates,  (Michael Sheen with a killer American accent and Nina Arianda, of Broadway acclaim, respectively) family friends who are  rich and cultured just like they are.

After a winetasting, slightly tipsy Gil goes on a midnight stroll and boom, like magic, a vintage Peugeot appears, transporting him to 1920s Paris.

Roger Ebert in his glowing review (generally, the reviews of this movie were glowing) says:

 There is nothing to dislike about [Midnight in Paris]. Either you connect with it or not. I’m wearying of movies that are for “everybody” — which means, nobody in particular. “Midnight in Paris” is for me, in particular, and that’s just fine with moi.

I love Roger Ebert, but what a crock of bull. Midnight in Paris was supposed to be for me too. In high school I was obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read of all his books with the exception of his first and last (unfinished) novel and went through all of his short stories. I read his biography. I also went through a Hemingway phrase and watched part 1 of his Biography documentary and am still waiting for part 2 to appear on Hulu. I was obsessed to put it bluntly, obsessed with both of them, and Cole Porter, don’t get me started. I used to borrow his songbooks from the library.

In fact, my familiarity with all these ‘Left Bank’ types, made Midnight in Paris all the more infuriating. Is this all there is? My sister and I kept asking ourselves.

“It’s like a bad play. ” She said. I’m prone to agree.

Every literary figure in the film is a caricature. Hemingway speaks in formal aphorisms. Zelda Fitzgerald tries to jump into the river. Fitzgerald is perplexed and apparently spineless. Gertrude Stein is direct and matriarchal. Cole Porter sings.

It’s the sort of the thing that really would be charming in an ongoing SNL sketch. But as a two hour movie?  Not so much. Perhaps if the film had devoted more time to that world instead flitting between one era and another, the caricatures would have begun to take more shape and texture.

To make matters worse, Allen adds a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl perhaps. She’s played fetchingly by Marion Cottillard, who does much with a cliched, underwritten part. Marion Cottilard is Adrianna, ‘an art groupie’ in Allen parlance, who beds Picasso and goes to Mt. Kilimanjaro with Hemingway (again, so obvious.)

In addition to poor execution of the central conceit, the modern day characters are so broadly drawn, it’s hard to take them seriously. There is no evidence as to how Gil and Inez wound up together in the first place, and I’m wearying of films that don’t at least hint at what the initial attraction was between an unhappy couple. Inez and her parents are materialistic pomposities (her father’s even a Tea Party enthusiast for pete’s sake; that’s shorthand for ‘hate this character’ in Allen’s world), while the Bates are equally reviling in all their pedantry.

Yet there has to be something about Woody Allen that engages the Hollywood machine. Actors clearly seem to love him. They flock at the opportunity to cameo in his films–Carla Bruni, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates among others.

I strongly suspect the positive buzz over this film (Oscar’s name has been circulated) has more to do with nostalgia than anything else. Nostalgia for the subject matter, (a whole bunch of film critics were English majors) and nostalgia for the director himself. Seventy-five and still at it.  If only ‘it’ were better.

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2 Comments on “‘Midnight in Paris’: An extended SNL sketch”

  1. Sara says:

    I’m so glad you hated this. It looked atrocious, and also I hate Woody Allen.


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