Perhaps one of the most embarrassing confessions I can make as a person who enjoys film is that up until recently, I had never seen a film directed by Woody Allen. This is an especially heinous crime because I have spent most of my life as a neurotic, socially awkward male with glasses – a description that should make me the perfect audience for his brand of comedy. Yet, for whatever reason, I somehow avoided his films. That all changed a couple nights ago, when I watched Midnight in Paris. It’s one of his more recent movies and thus not considered a classic (yet), but I heard good things about it so I thought it would be a decent place to start.
For those of you who haven’t seen Midnight in Paris, the main character is Gil, a screenwriter who visits Paris with his fiancee in order to finish his first novel. When exploring the town late one night, he discovers a way of traveling through time, back to Paris in the 1920s, where he meets his literary and artistic idols.
My favourite part of Midnight in Paris was the film’s portrayal of several classic authors, the most notable being F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda are just as I always imagined them: intoxicated, extravagant, and completely in love. It’s fitting that we first see them at a party, considering lavish parties are a main setting in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Hemingway, on the other hand, is sitting alone when he first appears, acting macho and rambling on about how writing should be “honest.” Seeing Hemingway in Paris, I was reminded of his novel The Sun Also Rises and I felt like the film was trying to explain where that book originated. At times, I thought Hemingway was more of a caricature of how people perceive him, but I never knew the man and it was enjoyable regardless.
I did have some small problems with the famous authors in the movie, however. First, Hemingway praises Fitzgerald’s writing in the film. The two of them were friends in real life and I’m sure he had moments where he liked Fitzgerald’s work, but he was also very critical of it. Because Hemingway preferred prose that resembled the basic style of journalism, he found Fitzgerald’s writing in The Great Gatsby far too poetic. My only other problem with the authors was that T.S. Eliot was barely featured. He had one off-screen appearance, but nothing beyond that. Maybe Woody Allen didn’t think he would be as amusing as the other writers, but I’m a fan of Eliot’s poetry, so I would have liked to see more of him. Despite my complaints, I enjoyed the attempt to show these famous personalities in Midnight in Paris. Needless to say, my literature courses definitely paid off when viewing the movie.
A main concern of Midnight in Paris is the idea of “The Golden Age.” Everyone has a time in the past that they feel nostalgic about, even if they weren’t even born at the time. Of course, that time is 1920s Paris for Gil, but other characters have similar times they miss. The Golden Age is simply an illusion, though. Gil might believe the 1920s were a perfect time to live, but he eventually discovers that the era has its own share of problems. Gertrude Stein, who is played in the film by Kathy Bates, has a famous quote where she calls Hemingway’s generation a “lost generation” because they were damaged by World War I. Doesn’t sound quite as perfect as Gil originally believed, does it?
I can’t compare Midnight in Paris with other films by Woody Allen, because this is the first I’ve seen, but I thought it was well-made. Allen highlights the beauty of Paris throughout the movie, but one of the more interesting choices was right at the beginning; before he even shows a single character, he introduces Paris with a montage of different locations within the city, while Sidney Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” plays in the background. Similarly, there is a long tracking shot early in the film where four characters are walking and having a discussion, while the Palace of Versailles comes into view behind them. It’s a great scene among many, and shows how much Allen likes the city of Paris.
Woody Allen’s writing in Midnight In Paris is also great. It’s not as laugh-out-loud funny as other comedies, but I did enjoy his humour and he’s a very clever writer. I will say, though, that I thought he could have done a better job of building towards a climax. I don’t expect a predictable romantic comedy, where everything is neatly concluded and Gil lives happily ever after with the perfect woman, but I did think there should be some moment where everything comes together in an interesting way. It seemed like Midnight in Paris just ended. I enjoyed the movie anyway, because the journey was interesting enough, but I thought the story could have been structured better.
Overall, I would give Midnight in Paris a 4 out of 5. The film had some problems that didn’t make it work as well as it could have, but seeing authors I’ve read in a movie like this elevated the entertainment value for me. The movie did make me want to see more of Woody Allen’s work, but I think next time I will choose one of his older, classic films.
See the trailer for Midnight in Paris below: