Traveling around Europe has been good for Woody Allen.
the middle of the last decade, his career seemed to be at a standstill.
Despite making a movie every year, he had not had any kind of critical or
popular success in a decade. Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1989 was
arguably his last masterpiece, though I suppose a case could be made for two
good-but-imperfect mid 90s films – 1994’s Bullets over Broadway and
1995’s Mighty Aphrodite.
Still, Allen’s dissections of Manhattan society had grown a bit stale, so he
shook things up by going to London to make his quality comeback, the
wonderful 2005 drama Match Point. (Truth is, the change of scenery
was completely economic – Allen has acknowledged the film was supposed to
take place in New York but filming had gotten to be too expensive there so
he moved the film to London where he could afford to make the movie.) Still
the new digs brought out a new purpose in the legendary writer/director.
After this, the Woodman stuck around England for a couple of movies
(Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream) with diminishing results.
Therefore, Allen decided to try out a new city. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
– filmed in the gorgeous Spanish city mentioned in the title – was yet
another return to form for Allen. Then he returned to his native New York
for the okay-but-slight Whatever Works and went
back to London for You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger.
Again Allen was ready for another shakeup, and he set his gaze towards the
City of Lights.
Midnight in Paris
is easily Allen’s best
pure comedy since Mighty Aphrodite. (Match Point and Vicky
Cristina Barcelona, though very funny in parts, were essentially
Midnight in Paris
is in the tradition of Allen fantasy-comedies like The Purple Rose of
Cairo and Zelig. It is a beautiful meditation on art and
nostalgia and also as commercial a film as Allen has put together in years.
Essentially, in a thumbnail, it is about a Hollywood screenwriter struggling
on his first novel who decides to visit Paris with his horrible fiancée.
One night while wandering around the city, he somehow slips through time and
ends up in the 1920s – rubbing elbows with his heroes like F. Scott and
Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador
Dali, Luis Bunuel and others.
a brilliant piece of wish fulfillment, charming and smart and wonderfully
imaginative. And if occasionally it seems like Allen is going a little too
hog-wild with his Paris nostalgia – you keep running across another
legendary name around every corner – it is still a fun idea.
to its terrific premise, Midnight in Paris pulls off the neat trick
of wallowing in nostalgia at the same time that it warns against wallowing
Wilson – an actor who I have always felt was overrated, by the way – does
one of his best jobs ever in the lead role. Playing what is essentially the
Woody role, Wilson actually does a terrific job of not overdoing the Allen
tics and mannerisms – a problem that has haunted some more talented actors
who have previously worked on Allen’s films.
fiancée is played by Wilson’s Wedding Crashers co-star Rachel McAdams
in an essentially thankless role. Apparently Allen, who recently
acknowledged he almost never watches modern comedies, said that he saw
Wilson and McAdams work together in Wedding Crashers and decided they
were really good together and he wanted to hire these two actors. I don’t
know why, but somehow it makes me smile a little bit, the idea of Woody
Allen sitting home alone catching Wedding Crashers on cable and
thinking, “Hey, what is this?”
with this kind of playful mood that Allen takes on Midnight in Paris.
Allen obviously loves the city and the artists that he is writing about and
that love is contagious in this sweet fantasy. As so many artists before
him, Paris brings out the best in Allen and I hope he continues to film
the meantime, I’m wondering which European city will be Allen’s muse next –
perhaps Rome or Monte Carlo or Athens or Cannes or Madrid or Lisbon? I’m
looking forward to seeing Allen’s view on all of these beautiful cities.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: July 3, 2011.