5843_5949511633I kind off went off Woody Allen some time after Manhattan Murder Mystery, which was the last film of his that I really enjoyed, and to be honest I stopped watching his movies completely. So when Silvery Dude told me that Midnight in Paris was a return to form I was sufficiently interested to borrow the DVD. I’ve had this for a while (sorry Your Silveriness) and finally got around to watching it on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

The premise is that Owen Wilson is a writer on holiday in Paris with his fiancée and her parents and is trying to finish his novel against a background of increased dissatisfaction with his life and a deep nostalgia for the American expatriate community in the 1920s. Wandering around Paris on his own one night he discovers that at midnight he can travel back in time to meet all of his literary heroes.

I wanted to love this SO MUCH, and there is a lot to enjoy, but I found it vaguely disappointing, and there were a couple of really irritating things which I couldn’t get over. That feeling of mild irritation hit me about 15 minutes in and lingered for the rest of the movie. For example the opening scene – oh look, all the famous landmarks, just to show we’re definitely in Paris. That’s Paris, France by the way.

So stuff I liked:

  • love Owen Wilson’s voice (but sounds weird delivering lines that should have been coming out of Woody’s mouth)
  • “all that’s missing is the tuberculosis”
  • love Alison Pill as Zelda “my talent really lies in drinking” (actually generally just love Alison Pill)
  • ditto Tom Hiddleston (swoon)
  • OW SO slow on the uptake, very amusing for a bit…
  • if I thought Hemingway was really as he’s portrayed here I would like him more
  • “you’ll never write well if you fear dying”
  • Kathy Bates IS Gertrude Stein (and I have the same view as of Hemingway above)
  •  the past has aways had a great charisma for me”
  • Marion Cotillard is luminous
  • Adrien Brody as Dali very, very funny (and possibly the best bit in the whole film)

But.

I wanted to thump Michael Sheen as soon as he turned up (which shows what a good actor he is as I adore Mr Sheen). The differences between Owen’s character’s current life and his 1920s experience are just too sharp; Inez is SO annoying that I just couldn’t believe that Owen’s character would ever have been with her. I thought that part was unsubtle and could have been handled so much better.

The same could be said about the introduction of characters from the past. For example, some of the literary in-jokes are pretty heavy-handed, the Djuna Barnes one in particular was meant to be funny (he had been dancing whether and when told who she was he said “no wonder she wanted to lead” – ooh you mean she’s a lesbian?) A picture of the lovely Djuna here to make up for Djunabarnesher footnote as a poor joke.

Two other examples:

  • without giving away too much, at one point Gauguin and Degas appear, and it made me think of a quote from Clive James reviewing the TV series Lillie from 1978

As they arrive, people cry “It’s Wilde and Whistler”

  • the whole approach to introducing the past led to some more Clive James, this time about the Borgias (in 1981), 

The reason Cesare tells Rodrigo that he, Cesare, has a brother called Joffre is so that we, the audience, may be informed

My favourite example of all of this is when Owen gets into the car which is occupied by a man who identifies himself as Tom Eliot (“Tom Eliot? Thomas Stearns Eliot? TS Eliot? Prufrock’s, like, my mantra”). I did giggle, but not sure I was meant to giggle in quite that way. Oh, and Dali introducing his friends Bunuel and Man Ray. I know these guys all hung out together but would they really have referred to each other in this way? Bet Hemingway called Stein Gertie.

I’m probably being a bit unfair, but I suppose that’s a function of perhaps expecting too much? It feels too much like an “and the moral of this story is….” film. I’m sure lots of people love this, but it’s not one I’ll take time to watch again.

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