I love Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Midnight in Paris. What a marvelous little film from a director that I have never really gotten into. I may have seen only a few of Woody Allen’s films but this is by far my favorite. Midnight in Paris seems to be not only a love letter to the city of Paris but also to the city’s enduring qualities that have existed for years. So much can be said of the brilliant performances and the well-written script but I do not think I will ever forget the music and Gill walking the streets of Paris in marvel of all its beauty. There are so many films that try to capture the nostalgia of the time period it’s trying to create. Midnight in Paris is successful in creating a nostalgic 1920s Paris and a pride in the nostalgia that our era will provide to generations to come.
From the way that the film was marketed, it sort of surprised me to find out that Midnight in Paris is apart of the time travel genre. The movie centers on Gill (Owen Wilson) who is on vacation to Paris with his fiancé and future in-laws. From the beginning Owen Wilson gives off his normal quirky charm and although his performance may be similar to his other films there is something refreshing about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it is the enthusiasm that he exhumes about the romantic past of France or his nativity to what is going on around him but Wilson simply gives a witty and romantic performance. At first we see that Gill believes he is in love with his fiancé but as a trip to Paris goes on the two seem to drift apart leaving Gill to walk the streets of Paris alone in search of some kind of understanding of the art, buildings, and culture all around him. It is here that Gill finds some type of portal in the fashion of an old 1920s car that whisks him away to Paris in the era he so desperately wishes to be apart of.
During these scenes of the nightlife of old Paris we meet many famous artists and intellectuals. Some of the people you meet you will recognize and if you have some knowledge of 1920s art and literature you may get most of the jokes but knowing these people isn’t what’s important, it’s the atmosphere that they bring to the film. The characters from the past aren’t what you’d see in a Bill and Ted movie but are people of art and culture. These are the people that you probably missed a question or two on in your art appreciation exams. I have to admit that even I was confused on who some of the artists where but nevertheless each character is true to who they are portraying and distinctive enough for the audience to get the point. I got a big kick out of seeing some of my favorite authors here such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Not only is it cool to see a film portray these literary giants but the performances are just pitch perfect. To see Hemingway sitting in a bar drinking wine depressed and aloof made me laugh and seeing Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda going to various clubs of Paris is as comical (in good sense) as it is magical. There is a certain vintage feel to old 1920s Paris that is reminiscent of the works of the artists that the film features and their art and influence make up the mood of 1920s Paris.
We do have our main characters who take up a lot of the screen time but it is the cameos or minor characters that set up the culture of Gill’s perfect Paris. Like I said before, knowing all of these characters probably requires a PhD but each icon here (which some you will have to Wikipedia later) is captured in all of their mythos and personas. This might not be the way these people of the past really acted but are portrayals of them that history and the passage of time have provided us. Pablo Picasso is a babbling mad man, Hemmingway is a depressive drunk, and Toulouse-Lautrec is small and lonely man. Each icon is perfectly cast by actors who we have seen in the past (Adrien Brody) and some that we have never seen before (Adrien de Van). Allen doesn’t try to get the biggest names he can but uses actors that look the part and who can act the part as well. Gill almost seems to be walking around a zoo finding and observing people who he has only meet in his mind and before he can fully comprehend what and whom he is seeing, these icons leave the screen retreating into their natural habit of Paris’s nightlife. I especially enjoyed the performances of Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill who play Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald or in Pill’s case the alluring and mysterious Zelda. Talk about perfect casting. The performances show the complex relationship of the Fitzgerald’s in a subtle way to almost give a wink to anyone in the audience that knows the history of the complicated marriage. One thing I love about Gill is his futuristic hindsight that doesn’t make him try and solve the problems of some of our icons but merely look at them and say, “Oh wow, yea, that’s exactly the way I pictured it”.
Owen Wilson may dominate the screen but the women he meets in his late night adventures, Adriana, who is played by Marion Cotillard is just as interesting. Cotillard is absolutely stunning and her character represents the beauty and mystery of the women that could’ve been and ought to be. Its hard not to see what Gill sees in her as Cotillard whisks him away into the night lights showing grace, poise, and excitement that resembles our own image of the perfect women. So many movies try to create the women of our dreams but I can’t remember any other movie that does this so well. I don’t think you can accredit this to Woody Allen but to Cotillard who is intoxicating every time she shows up on screen. There are so many other supporting characters in this movie that it is hard to explain the complexities and depths of them all but each in there fleeting presences captures a intriguing and majestic feel to them. All the credit has to go to the ensemble that have brought together a crowd of intellectuals and common people who fill are streets and dreams.
Woody Allen’s script is what a light romantic comedy should be. This isn’t a romantic comedy in the sense of a boy and girl, but of a man and the city he adores. Even if it isn’t a traditional romantic comedy like so many other films of its genre it captures the love and soul of its two counterparts. Midnight in Paris shows us the enduring qualities of being somewhere you know you should be. The direction may seem subtle but it is perfect as we see are characters interacting against the landscape of Paris. The camera never seems to try and create magic of its own, but only shows the city as it really is, in the words of Ernest Hemmingway “a moveable feast”. Paris, Allen, and Wilson are the stars of the film and bring to life a city I have never had the pleasure of seeing. Some day soon, I hope I will.
Living in the present is not an easy task but all humans have to deal with the era that they were born in. Some feel that they are apart of some lost generation or their happiness lies in the books and photographs of a time period they love but have never really known. The past is so real to us because we make it real. We put our selves in it and wonder what if. What if I could have walked the streets of Athens with Aristotle or carved stones with Michelangelo in Florence. These times seem so romantic and immortal to us because we know nothing about them except their beauty and grace that has been passed on to us over the years. But we forget that people of those eras had the same hopes and fears that we had. Gill believes that the 1920s Paris has all that he needs to be happy but he is surrounded by people who populated that time who were wanting the same things he wanted. These people of 1920s Paris don’t live in a blissful state but like Gill they look towards the past for answers as well. Cause no matter what era we live in every person from the beginning of man has lived in the present, which never seems to have all the answers to our questions, if any. There is so much beauty and so many people to meet in our own time. Don’t let your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren realize that before you do.