Wednesday, June 15, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Midnight in Paris

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS-- 4 STARS

Official Website
Internet Movie Database

There are dozens and even hundreds of cities and places around the world that people find to unquestionably romantic.  For some, it's a picnic in Central Park in New York City or among the natural beauty in and around San Francisco.  For some, it's a beach somewhere in the Caribbean or Pacific.  To others, it's floating through the canals of Venice or walking the streets in London.  However, without a doubt, the most popular place for romance in the world is Paris, France, the "City of Light."  Paris is different, special, and timeless.

Paris reinforced that sentiment and has captured the romantic hearts of as many moviegoers as world travelers in the last century.  Whether you watch 2001's Amelie for Audrey Tautou, the seductive 2004 sequel Before Sunset with a reunited Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, the animated rodents of Pixar's Ratatouille, or the twenty directors (including the Coen brothers, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant, and Alexander Payne among others) spinning their own take on love for the city in 2007's Paris Je T'amie, all of the movies don't have to try hard to showcase the dozens of nooks and crannies that make Paris alluring to the point that you never want to leave.  Even the greatest romance of all-time, Casablanca, chimes in when Humphrey Bogart's Rick tells Ingrid Bergman's tearful Ilsa that "We'll always have Paris" upon letting her go.

So when the New Yorker-est of New Yorkers, 75-year-old filmmaking legend Woody Allen, finds himself equally in love with the French captial, that adds another huge testament to the city's draw.  We all know Woody Allen can write romance (Annie Hall and dozens of others), but his latest film, Midnight in Paris, is Allen's first film shot entirely in Paris.  For a guy who never left the Big Apple for nearly a lifetime, he's sure getting out in his old age, after filming three straight movies in London (Match Point, Scoop, and Cassandra's Dream) and one in Spain (Vicky Christina Barcelona) in the past six years.  Something tells this reviewer that Mr. Allen may be in Paris for a while.

Midnight in Paris opens with a three-plus minute montage of Paris scenery set to 1940's French jazz clarinetest Sidney Bechet's "Su Ti Vois Ma Mere."  It's a beautiful and keenly selected (Allen is himself a jazz clarinetest) piece of old music and a mood setter like no other.  Allen shows that imagery and music can set as much of an atmosphere as actors and actresses can.  Believe me when I say, you, the audience, are seduced from that moment on because Paris will grab you, right then and there.  It only took three minutes and not a single actor.

Alas, three minutes of music don't make a movie.  There's plenty more to love.  In Midnight in Paris, we soon meet an awkwardly engaged couple, Gil and Inez (Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams), who are piggy-backing on her parents' (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) business vacation to Paris from America.  Gil is a successful, yet dissatisfied Hollywood screenwriter who has been painstakingly struggling to write his first novel, much to the chagrin of Inez who thinks it's a waste of time from what makes him money.  Their relationship is made more tedious when Inez reconnects with an old flame, Paul (Michael Sheen, McAdams's current real-life squeeze), now married, who they run into in the city.  Paul is the perfect cultured man and a favorite of Inez's folks.

Not wanting to play an intellectual third wheel in their conversations and double dates, Gil, who secretly wants to stay writing in Paris and not return home, starts to wander the Paris streets and boulevards at night.  It is then that something magical happens for Gil.  Now, the trailer to Midnight in Paris hints at, but doesn't give this twist away, and this review won't either.  Let's just say he's taken to a place where he meets his inspirations, and we'll leave it at that.  Some of those inspirations just happen to be played by Thor's Tom Hiddleston, Salt's Corey Stall, and Academy Award winners Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, and Marion Cotillard.  You're going to have to see the movie and start some discussion after this review to get more.  I will say one thing.  You're going to wish you payed more attention in some of your high school and college classes after seeing the movie.

Midnight in Paris becomes about Gil finding what inspires him and how it may just change his path in life.  Owen Wilson plays essentially the Woody Allen part he himself would have played thirty years ago.  Where Allen is known for the pessimistically-skewing characters he plays himself, Wilson has a bubbly enthusiasm and wonder that definitely creates one of the best performances of his career.  It was nice to see him put the clueless, mop-headed Texas stoner act away for a movie and tap into the talent that he actually has.  His talented co-stars (without giving more away) all get to play very fun parts and stereotypes that match their skills and dispositions.  From top to bottom, Midnight in Paris is very well-acted and very well-written movie for the twists it sets out to tell.

The true winner is again the delightful city of Paris.  While the movie itself is greatly performed on many levels, the music, romance, and sights (even French First Lady and former model Carli Bruni-Sarkozy plays a key small role) dominate your senses the same way they enrapture Gil's.  In a summer full of eye-popping special effects, Midnight in Paris comes along to cutely take you off our feet maybe more so than those big spectacles will.  If you've been to Paris, then the movie is a must-see to go with that list mentioned at the beginning of the review.  If you haven't been there, you may find yourself on a travel website after the show.  Take in simple, though, save on airfare, and take a $9 trip to the "City of Light" with just a drive to the theater and a bucket of popcorn.

LESSON #1: THE MAGIC OF PARIS-- The review covered this well already, but there's just something about Paris.  The thing is Paris is just one place out of many.  All of us have our own special and memorable "Paris," where romance or inspiration struck.  We remember that place and would kill to go back.  We can describe that place to the smallest detail, no matter how ordinary the place really is.  Special places, no matter where yours is, are unforgettable and emotional and create special memories that are just unforgettable and emotional as well.  Everyone should have a "Paris."

LESSON #2: CONNECTING CREATIVELY WITH SOMEONE-- Sure, we've all heard that opposites attract and have encountered he-said/she-said likes and dislikes in marriages, on dating websites, or even Facebook.  Yet, there's something to be said about making a creative bond with someone.  Whether it's sharing a love of art or being mutually inspired by a book or genre of music, that connection is something different and something special.  While it may not always be romantic, having a kindred spirit of similar tastes is uniquely satisfying.  Gil, and even director Woody Allen, finds that in Midnight in Paris and may just be getting you to buy a Cole Porter or Sidney Bechet download on iTunes too.

LESSON #3: THE ILLUSION THAT LIFE DIFFERENT FROM YOUR OWN IS BETTER-- Many people observe, from the outside looking in, how their lives might have been different if some key choices or elements were changed or different.  Some people talk about "the one that got away" with love or maybe a missed career opportunity.  They may even enviously think that the life they see in someone else should be theirs instead.  All of it can be an illusion.  Your life is yours because of the here and now, good or bad.  The choices you took and the places where you grew as a person define you more than the "woulda-coulda-shoulda's."