Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ruminations after Midnight . . .

So, last week I went to see the new Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris. As a longtime Allen fan, I shall admit that I was leery as I approached the film. After being underwhelmed by the critically dubbed "return to form" of Vicky Cristina Barcelona I had taken the praise heaped upon the new film with a few grains of salt. Still, I expected to be amused for a couple hours, enjoy some good acting, and even if annoyed here and there, at least not dislike the movie. A reaction similar to Vicky Cristina Barcelona if you will. Indeed, I shall entirely fess up to my own longstanding fondness for the culture of the '20s--though if pressed, I may have prefered hanging out in the cafes & cabarets of Berlin with F. W. Murnau but I digress . . . the point is, Allen had a sympathetic viewer in me. Instead, I found myself groaning more than laughing, and finding few things of pleasure to latch on to . . .

In the plus column, there is Owen Wilson, who I thought made a fine stand-in for Allen. Opinion has been split on this matter, but I think that he handled his role quite well. He had that same bumbling charm that Allen could have at times. If his performance faltered in places, it was because the writer had failed to give him a script of any quality.

My nest-mate has a longstanding theory that Woody Allen basically hates women, which is why they often come off so badly in his films. Well, this may the best example of this to date. Wilson's character is engaged to Inez, the most two-dimensional, bitchy, unsympathetic female Allen has written yet. All you need to know about their relationship is that he wants to live in Paris and write novels, while she wants him to keep writing the Hollywood blockbusters that have made them rich and enabled them to live in Malibu. In case you missed the subtle cultural commentary, Inez is accompanied by her parents whose only function I could tell was to walk around with the label Ugly Americans stamped prominently on their foreheads. Oh yeah, and her dad is Republican, so we know that he must be unredeemable. Wilson's character, Gil, seems to be the only sane American in a wilderness of right-wing, superficial, materialistic, uncultured wackos. That issue aside, though, at no point in the film does Woody Allen allow one ounce of a sympathetic trait for Inez, or even give any indication of what attracted these two characters to each other in the first place. I guess that they could have had good physical chemistry, though naturally, any hint of that is long gone by this point in the relationship.

There's also a smug, know-it-all, name-dropper named Paul who is the butt of many a joke. More on him below.

As for the sections of the film that meander into the '20s? I simply was not that captivated by them. Yes, the frocks were pretty, and the sets nice. Yet, I wasn't sitting there going, "Oh my god, that art deco recreation is amazing." Hemingway shows up as a one-joke parody of himself that was funny until I realized that Allen had nothing more interesting about the man to say than that. More troublesome is the portrayal of the Fitzgeralds. It seems that in Woodyland Zelda was the parasite who held back Scott, and prevented him from achieving greater things. She is the flighty airhead, all fun & games distracting the Artist from his true work. I mean, it is such a nuisance when our loved ones go all diva and threaten suicide on us. Luckily we men of the present have valiums to keep our women calmer. La-de-da.

Finally, this parade of famous names starts feeling like Allen is showing off everything he knows about the period. When Gil runs into Dali, it's cute. When Dali promptly calls Bunnel and Man Ray over to the same cafe table, it gets a little tiresome. Later Gil suggests to Bunnel the plot for one of his most iconic films. What could have been a clever subtle joke is entirely heavy-handed. One gets to the end of these sequences wondering what the difference between the character Paul and his creator Allen is? They both seem rather self-satisfied with their own superior taste and intellect (cue cheap laugh at the expense of the Tea Party).

I shall grant the film does make a good arguement for why one cannot live in any Golden Age, as a Golden Age is never contemporary, but perpetually in the past, where it may be safely sanitized. (Though it takes an appearence by not one, not two, but three iconic late 19th-century painters to illustrate this concept). As I have observed on other occasions, the problem with wishing to live in the '20s is that eventually you pass 1929, and reach a decade that was decidedly not the best of times.

Some may say that I'm getting way too nitpicky about a silly comedy, and I would say "you're right" if I had been amused by any of this. However, I laughed rarely during this film, so I can't even recommend it really on the strength of escapism. It's got some great music in it, though buying a CD of Django Reinhardt tunes may be a better investment of funds.

Nope, I hate to say it, but I'm calling "the emperor has no clothes" on this one. I don't always agree with David Thomson, but on this one he's right: the saddest thing about all this is that Allen has demonstrated little wisdom gained with age and experience. Perhaps, the true problem, as is often the case with arrested development, is that the same old routines eventually cease being funny.

Or at any rate, that's how it seems to me . . .


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