"L'époque est toujours plus belle de l'autre côté du pont Einstein-Rosen"
I've been waiting for Woody Allen to make this film since before he asked to Play It Again, Sam (or even What's Up, Tiger Lily?).
Based on a routine from his stand-up days,* which he later expanded for a piece in "The New Yorker" (see above), Midnight in Paris follows Gil (Owen Wilson) a self-absorbed, neurotically anxious writer of Hollywood fluff ("Wonderful, but forgettable...sounds like something I wrote"), who is obsessed with death,** as he travels to Paris from Pasadena with fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams, but it could just as well have been Elizabeth Banks) and her conservative family. Gil is working on a novel, long in the gestation, and is distracted by the vapid shallowness that he is about to marry into. Paris is shops, restaurants, museums and snootiness, and to escape the jejeune de vivre, he takes a late-night walk through the streets of Paris and is approached by a vintage taxi. Entering the cab for Gil is a magical moment for him, on the same plane-breaking as when Tom Baxter (or is it Gil Shepherd) walks off the screen in The Purple Rose of Cairo. He is instantly transported to 1920's Paris and becomes lost in "The Lost Generation" (without the benefit of having survived World War I), meeting Cole Porter (Yves Heck), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Zelda (Alison Pill) and Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), all the heroes of his favorite literary era and time, 1920's. He's enchanted...and as his novel is about the time...inspired. He goes back to Inez, gob-smacked, unable to explain where he's been all night, but "alibi's" his adventures as a dream (as they are, certainly in the aspirational sense). He tries to bring Inez to the party, but the magic doesn't work—she's as unthrilled with Gil's stories as he is with her wine-tasting adventures with acquaintance Paul (Michael Sheen).
She leaves. And the taxi arrives, bearing Gil and Hemingway to the apartment of Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and Alice B. Toklas (Thérèse Bourou-Rubinsztein), who are playing judgemental hosts to Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) and his enchanting mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard). Gil gives his novel to Stein and Hemingway to critique, but he is drawn to Adriana, making her way through the 20's as best she can.
So, the two planes of existence for Gil are set up: his modern-day drudgery on the cusp of a marriage of inconvenience; and his fantasy past, where his dreams are reality and reality can make dreams. You know where this is going.
It doesn't matter, though. This is a "feel-good" Woody Allen picture—the kind people like—where the messages are still telegraphed the way they are in "obvious" Allen movies, the coincidences just a little too convenient, but so full of incident, grace and nuance (and quite a bit of humor) that it goes down well (as Allen groused throughout Stardust Memories, audiences "like his earlier, funnier [movies]"). That Gil is such a sunny presence in the past (and as played by Wilson, he has a guileless charm that doesn't sacrifice intelligence—he's the way you'd imagine Jimmy Stewart would play Woody Allen), even his kvetching is charming and not harsh. It doesn't matter that you be a history buff and "get" all the references,*** (and we meet Luis Bunuel, Man Ray, Salvadore Dali [Adrien Brody], and on a side-trip, Toulouse Lautrec, Gaugin and Degas). Of course, Gil is enchanted; he is an era when his heroes are still at the stage he is, becoming themselves, with their best work still ahead of them. His age of magic is their everyday life. The interesting lesson of the film (and what makes it special and wise) is that knife cuts both ways. The "lesson" is both sour and sweet, but not hope-crushing—a little bit of salt in the creamy fluff.
And no, nobody punches Gil in the nose—but you can't help noticing that Wilson's is a little broken.
"Midnight in Paris" is an enchanting Matinee.
* I mentioned before that I was in Europe. It's not the first time that I was in Europe, I was in Europe many years ago with Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway had just written his first novel, and Gertrude Stein and I read it, and we said that is was a good novel, but not a great one, and that it needed some work, but it could be a fine book. And we laughed over it. Hemingway punched me in the mouth.
That winter Picasso lived on the Rue d'Barque, and he had just painted a picture of a naked dental hygenist in the middle of the Gobi Desert. Gertrude Stein said it was a good picture, but not a great one, and I said it could be a fine picture. We laughed over it and Hemingway punched me in the mouth.
Francis Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald came home from their wild New Years Eve party. It was April. Scott had just written "Great Expectations," and Gertrude Stein and I read it, and we said it was a good book, but there was no need to have written it, 'cause Charles Dickens had already written it. We laughed over it, and Hemingway punched me in the mouth.
That winter we went to Spain to see Manolete fight, and he was... looked to be eighteen, and Gertrude Stein said no, he was nineteen, but that he only looked eighteen, and I said sometimes a boy of eighteen will look nineteen, whereas other times a nineteen year old can easily look eighteen. That's the way it is with a true Spaniard. We laughed over that and Gertrude Stein punched me in the mouth.
** Yes, this is the Woody Allen character. His films never fall too far from the analyst's couch.
*** I certainly didn't—I had to do some referencing for the line: "That was Djuna Barnes (I was dancing with)? No wonder she wanted to lead."