Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wednesday Reviews: On "Midnight in Paris"

On Midnight in Paris
cross-posted to the "Reviews" page)

Starring Owen Wilson and featuring Kathy Bates & Rachel McAdams, this film is – in this author’s mind – the epitome of what a film should be. The acting was not superior, the writing was not sublime 100% of the time, the cinematography was not impeccable, and the story could have been better.


It was thought-provoking and terribly romantic. Dear Reader, please understand that when I use the term “romantic”, I do not necessarily mean it in the sense of rose petals, doves, champagne, chocolate and pretty words. I mean (particularly in this instance) Romantic with a capital R. I speak of a state of mind, a kind of artistic sensibility that throws caution and logic to the wind. Romantics dream of personified ideals, of dreamy realities where men are noble, ladies are idyllic and beautiful, and the good guys always win – through whatever struggle or misfortune – oh, and love, love reigns supreme.

The main character was a Hollywood screenwriter struggling to become a novelist. He and his fiancĂ© were in Paris with her parents, and met some of her college friends – one of whom was a completely pedantic asshole. He spent a good five minutes decrying the very Romantic idealism I just proclaimed. What a prick. Anyway, while the protagonist’s fiancĂ© runs around Paris and the French countryside with this pair (worshipping every word the asshole spat, of course), he insists on seeing Paris on his own terms. He takes walks at midnight and believes that “Paris is most beautiful when it is raining.” I agree, but only because I’ve been there, done that. I strongly recommend it. On one of these midnight strolls, he is picked up by an old-fashioned car and unwittingly carried into a glittering party populated by famous writers and artists he admires. Did I mention that all of these characters are members of the “Lost Generation” who lived in Paris during the Roaring ‘20s, which he refers to as “the Golden Age”? Yep.

For those who sneer at sci-fi/time travel pieces, stop. I, too, find them distasteful. This wasn’t so much sci-fi as it was Romantic/magical realism. The time travel just…happened. There was no machinery, no flashing lights or science at all. He simply got into a car with funny-dressed people, and walked into their world. It wasn’t science, it was magic. Anyway I was thinking through the whole thing that this movie was what I dream about. You think about what the great writers said, and the way they said it and the cadence of their voices and you realize that no one talks like that anymore.

People always comment on the way I speak – because I speak the way I write and vice versa – and tell me that people don’t really talk like that anymore. My answer is always the same: if souls could speak, they would be more fluent than the gibberish that trips over our tongues today. The great writers of the past were so… eloquent in their expression. It’s a trait that I fear our society has lost (to great detriment of our self-expression as a civilization) over the years, to speedier forms of communication. Back then, we had newspapers, speech halls, books, essays, poetry, letters and spoken language that was all so beautiful. Today we have texting, e-mail, Twitter, social networking and so much media that our own voices are drowning and dying out. Eventually, we will all communicate with nothing but a series of beeps and tones. What a sad world to live in.

So despite the potentially problematic issue of time travel (which I would encourage the viewer to simply accept as part of the fantasy world that is fiction), the endearing, loveable and legendary characters brought forth by the so-called “gimmick” of time travel – from Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, even Pablo Picasso and Edgar Degas – are rich and vibrant and undeniably resonant. Their talk of ideals, of literature and art and love was so passionate… It resonated with the protagonist and with myself. As a writer, I take all words to heart for they are words and words possess a magic all their own. Hearing a character embody Ernest Hemingway and speak with such force and fervor made going to the movies the best moment of my time in Salem thus far.

To conclude: Yes, the acting is not terrific, but it is still quite convincing; No, the cinematography is not perfect, but it captures the mood of Paris both then and know and even offers a taste of magical realism, completing the film; No, the writing is not impeccable, but it does its job. So to the film snobs I say don’t waste your time.

But to the Romantics, the dreamers, the silly-hearts… Buy some popcorn and get swept away.

Directed by Woody Allen
Limited release May, 2011

“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” --George Bernard Shaw


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