Midnight in Paris (2011) directed by Woody Allen
If you could go back to any time and place in the world when and where would it be? Personally, I like the present mainly for its modern comfort and technology. Can you imagine a world now without the Internet? Perhaps more importantly though is that present is the accumulation of all the time periods before it. While I would have loved to buy the latest Beatles albums on vinyl during the 1960's, I'm thankful that I have their entire collection on my iPod today. What people are really looking for in their nostalgic time travels has more to do with escaping from the grind of today than it does with a yearning for the past. It is easy to imagine a world better than the one you currently inhabit, a change of pace from your monotonous routines and lack of inspiration, but the sad truth is that you cannot escape who you are by simply running away. Your problems will always find you. Of course this is all hypothetical, but in Woody Allen's latest film Midnight in Paris, this is all a reality.
The answer to the question for Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is clearly Paris during the 1920's, preferably in the rain. He's a hopeless romantic, a struggling writer who idolizes the great masters that occasionally lived in 1920's Paris; Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Dali, TS Elliot, Cole Porter, etc, a who's who of early twentieth century artists. Somehow every night at the stroke of midnight, Gil is able to magically travel back in time to this era, where the city magically transforms to everything that Gil could ever hope for. Here, he gets to meet and befriend his idols and catch a glimpse of how they lived. Scott Fitzgerald is a polite and charming gentleman while his wife Zelda is kind of off her rocker. Earnest Hemingway is hilariously intense. He speaks as if reading from a novel and always with a masculine ruggedness. Interlaced between his poetic musings are challenges to boxing matches and invitations to go hunt lions.
The film is sprinkled with endless cameos by famous writers and artists and thinkers. Woody Allen is obviously an intelligent and cultured guy who must have had great fun jamming all these historical and artistic references. There were some characters I didn't know at all other than that they must have been important and I suspect some people in the theater knew even fewer of the names mentioned as I did. Clearly, you have to be at least somewhat versed in the material otherwise it'll go over your head (as it did for me at times), but that's not Allen's fault for making a smart movie. It is kind of ironic though that the movie appears to be the type of thing that Gil hates, pseudo-intellectualism and pretentiousness, namely in the character of Paul, a man he abhors but whom his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) fancies. He is a self proclaimed expert on everything, often getting facts incorrect and sometimes seems to just make stuff up. He is so arrogant that he tries to correct a tour guide on a trivial fact in which he is in fact wrong.
Gil is at a crossroads in his life. He is getting married to Inez, who seems so mismatched for him and is struggling to get his career as a novelist off the ground. He finds solace in his magical time travels, but even those trips have their limitations. He is running away from something, but even in his paradise it will find a way to catch up with him.
Ths film is wonderfully written with Woody Allen's trademark quirky humor and intelligence and Owen Wilson gives a great performance as Gil, who basically sounds and looks like Allen when he acted. It's billed as a romantic comedy but word of warning, it is probably not for all people. But like I said, it's not his fault for making a smart movie.