***½

Yes. It was a good book because it was an honest book, and that’s what war does to men. And there’s nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully. And then it’s not only noble but brave. 

Midnight in Paris has two stories with a collection of messages and themes that connect them.  Some of these are patently clear, while others are pleasantly more challenging.  Some of the acting challenges helped the film, while others felt a bit hokey.  And by hokey, I mean in the somewhat self-indulgent style that gets in the way of some of Woody Allen’s films.

The film begins with an overture.  A nice song plays while the screen shows the famous sites of Paris and the bustling occupants of the City of Light.  The scene stretches on and on, showing Paris in the daylight, night, and in the rain.  The meaning of this scene is not apparent for some time.  Gil Pinder–Owen Wilson–points out that he could make “checkmate” arguments for both Paris during the day and during the night, but that it is most beautiful in the rain.

Gil’s fiancée, Inez–Rachel McAdams, does not want to walk back to the hotel in the rain, when the two of them plus Inez’s mother exit an upper crust furniture store.   Normally, the position of not wanting to walk in the rain would seem to be the more relatable one, but the mother–Mimi Kennedy–says “you get what you pay for,” when Gil balks at paying 18,000€ per chair.  Somehow Gil and Inez seem to be oblivious to the flaws in a relationship that seems doomed from the start.  My mom noticed that Inez probably fell for Gil when he was making a lot of money as a famous screenwriter in LA, but for all of the I love you talk and making out, the relationship had almost nothing going for it.  The lesson is that people need to challenge the assumptions in their relationships to be happy.  That this will be a lesson is clear from about 10 minutes into the film.

After a statement like that the last message I want to cover is that the truth is harder to see in the present, than in hindsight.  Many of the characters in this film are famous artists: Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali make up the famous 1920’s Paris dwellers.  When Gil travels back through time at midnight—yes, this is a subtle science fiction film, and there is even confirmation that Gil is not crazy since a private eye tailing him somehow winds up in walking in on a French king who screams “découpez sa tête!”—he knows that Fitzgerald and Hemingway are/were great writers, because their careers have finished and their worth determined.  Gil’s had not finished his novel, so no-one, not even he, knows the truth.  That is tied to Gil’s nostalgia.  He feels like he knows the past and would prefer to live in Paris in the 1920’s.

Ironically the best acting comes from Owen Wilson and the past characters, so even the film that addresses the flaws in nostalgia operates under some form of it.  While Gil—through one of his many love interests, Adriana, the beautiful Marion Cotillard—came to a similar realization about the dangers of trying to live in the past. Probably the best choice that Allen made in this film, was putting that message into the words of a “pedant,” obnoxiously played by Michael Sheen.  It took courage to put words of truth, words that criticize his protagonist into the mouth of an asshole.

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