Friday, June 3, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Juggling wonder for the City of Lights and spite for those who can't take the time to enjoy it, Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" is too clumsy to be great but strong in enough areas to be a worthwhile entertainment. Reminiscent of one of Allen's comic short stories, the film presents a clever if cliched idea in a delectable way. However, the work as a whole leaves something to be desired. Allen seems to have lost his touch navigating satire, and only does the straight comedy and romance well.

Owen Wilson, whose surprised face hugely aids the film's impact, plays Gil, an unsatisfied writer of vacuous films. Even though he apparently was a bad English student, he is still enraptured in the classics and wants to make a literary contribution. He goes with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her ultra-conservative family to Paris to take in the marvels. Inez thinks Gil should stay "doing what he does best" and quit with the dreamy novel stuff, perhaps because she knows the difference in paychecks between a novelist and a screenwriter. She also wants to see Paris (a city she says she would never live in) by absorbing it without contemplation, way opposed to Gil's agenda, and when she encounters her former professor Paul (Michael Sheen), purveyor of pretentious knowledge and sex appeal, she can.

Gil wants out of things being planned for him, and so he gets lost wandering one night after a wine tasting. I hadn't read much about the film going in, so what happens next came as somewhat of a surprise to me. I'll leave it the same way for you, but I will say that with it Allen supplies the material for an engrossing film, one that speaks about how the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence and how people always think that their moment in history is the least interesting and the most screwed up. Admittedly, the film speechifies these points a little (subtlety is not one of Allen's strengths), and paints brushstrokes that go a little too wild at times, but certain setups and jokes (especially the one involving Surrealism and "The Exterminating Angel") are well executed.

Unfortunately, much of the film's writing is poor (characters say the same things over and over again) and the acting, save Wilson's, isn't able to salvage it. There is, however, sterling technical proficiency on display here. Several shots are startling in the way they unfold: the camera roams before the primary characters appear out of the side of the frame, and in one instance the camera does a 180* in a superbly controlled long take. In the present moment, I see the film as not working as well as it could have (given the cogency of the concept, it could have possibly been one of Allen's best films). But it does have some minor triumphs, and maybe it'll improve with age. B-

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