Wednesday, 12 October 2011

midnight in paris (w&d woody allen)

Everything about Allen's career over the course of the last few years has put me off. I haven't seen much, but I was unlucky enough to catch Match Point. It's felt as though this is a sad, slightly undignified twilight, the one time genius peddling his wares where he can and, from the evidence of Match Point, creating picture postcard movies with Harlem Globetrotter casts and dodgy accents which possessed neither the wit nor the depth of his earlier works.

Midnight in Paris doesn't begin auspiciously. A long sequence plays out with documentary style footage of the city. A group of not-particularly-likeable North Americans are staying in a rich person's hotel and seeing the sights. Then, like a ray of light, Owen Wilson, the would-be novelist, is given a line which is vituperatively funny and gratuitously rude about the Tea Party. Politics infiltrating the late, bland Woody Allen? It's a promising sign. Soon afterwards, the narrative conceit kicks in, the handbrake is off, and the film turns into a delirious late-Allen masterclass.

The conceit is a simple one. Which is that Wilson discovers that if he waits on the right corner at midnight, he'll be whisked back in time to the twenties. Where he gets to hang out with all the greats. Allen has already mined this vein with Zelig, but here he incorporates it into a subtler, sadder narrative. Wilson's character, Gil, dreams of living in this epoch, when the US met Europe, when art still seemed to have a value greater than mere commercialism. And all of a sudden his dreams come true.

The conceit allows Allen to get his funny bone back. The innately comic scenario of Gil knowing things about Scott, Ernest, Zelda, Pablo, Bunuel and their ilk is mined for all it's worth. Wilson deadpans like a better-looking, younger Allen. Part of Allen's problem is that his films have never seemed complete without his presence, and the leading man all too often offers a version of Allen-lite. But Wilson has enough goofiness and character to pull the role off.

A lot of the lines are classic Allen and the ambition of the narrative is a throwback to his halcyon days, taking a real risk which pays off. There's another level to Midnight in Paris which is more subversive still, speaking to the audience not so much about the past as the present. Back in the real world, whilst Gil dreams of living in Paris, his wife wants to move to Malibu. Her parents are rich and sour. They go and see US movies which they can't remember the next day and the main attraction of Paris is its capacity for supplying antiques to furnish their homes they can't find in the US. Gil, intoxicated by the city, is pitched in direct conflict with his new family, and the consequences ring true.

Meanwhile, the film playfully reveals to Gil that you can't live your life stuck in nostalgia. The sharp script allows itself to follow through the logic of its conceit, revealing that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, even when you've magically been transported there. The thwarted love affair between Wilson and Cotillard has echoes of Allen's great romances: love is a zero-sum game, where everyone's liable to end up being a loser.

You won't see another movie like Midnight in Paris, certainly not in the English language, because very few writer-directors are given the budget to indulge their whims and intellectual games in the way that Allen is given license to. He's written a script which is entertaining, effortlessly funny, wistful and subversive. Then he's filmed it with real vigour. Those who came to bury him, not to praise him, myself included, have egg on their faces. 

1 comment:

Dhiraj said...

yes he took risk and pulled it off. You have great command over language and a very fluent thought process.