Midnight In Paris, written and directed by Woody Allen; starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and Kathy Bates; released June 2011.
(Swans - July 4, 2011) Twenty-five years hence Americans will look back at Woody Allen's oeuvre and marvel at its variety, breadth and depth; the way he caught psychological aspects of American life; how he switched from pathos to comedy sometimes in the same frame; and how he captured the thwarted ambitions of a society that viewed him only as a comic mirroring the lunacies and conceits of a nation almost as neurotic as the comedian himself.
Allen reached his zenith in the 1970s and '80s with films like Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Hannah and Her Sisters. As the years chortled by the films became more domesticated but there was always some comic shtick tossed here and there to remind audiences they were dealing with a humorist who was simultaneously neurotic and insightful. As paradoxes of human nature increased, one became aware of a certain shift towards more serious work. The neuroses were still present but as before, they were employed for comic effect, arbitrarily tossed in.
Midnight In Paris, his latest offering, appears to be aimed at the intelligentsia and has a high degree of snob appeal. Those members of the public familiar with artists such as Hemingway, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, and Salvador Dali can chortle quietly as the esthetic heroes of the twenties pop in to enliven the plot, but for a majority of moviegoers these parallels are over their heads. We know that behind Woody Allen's idolatry of the great French authors and painters there is a cozy intellectual pleasure having them pop up on the screen. The magical l920s gives the film a patina of a past that is associated with a slew of great artists.
The film is fraught with artistic encounters, which seem to imply that fantasy can be a valid alternative to a mismatched union between two people who ostensibly love each other. Allen also suggests that a life devoted to humdrum domesticity is like living in a fortress with barred windows.
The foundation of the narrative is almost a soap opera, but ingeniously woven into the bohemian fantasy. A young couple (Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams) ostensibly in love discover that they never were meant for each other; a realization brought about by the artistic stimuli that draws the bridegroom into the past and makes him realize there is a greater world beyond American domesticity. It suggests that fantasy can sometimes rescue a mismatched marriage when one partner is tuned into observing convention and the other caught in a web of fantasy. It also suggests that art and literature can become a monitor as to whether or not a couple can achieve a happy union or will be seriously at odds with each other.
The ubiquitous star of the film is Paris itself -- lovingly recollected in a series of snapshots of its most irresistible history; a Paris in which bohemians enlivened a city in which works of art were as plentiful as croissants. One's only cavil is that there is very little humor in this movie and although we are swept up with the beauties of the magical city, we miss the comedy that we have been led to expect in a Woody Allen film. But why shouldn't Allen, who was always metaphysically inclined, take a break from hilarity?
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