If you’ve never been to Paris, in some ways the most romantic and right-brained of all Western cities, you have missed a lot. I have to say, it has a lot of charm, though some would say ‘Paris is only spoilt by its being inhabited by snobby Parisians’. Well, like all caricatures, there is some truth in that, but there are also some very nice Parisians who don’t hate Americans on first sight. This movie is a mere bagatelle, or even a short baguette— in an hour and 38 minutes it gives us various things to chew on. And one pleasant surprise is there is no violence, no bad language, no crude jokes, and no gratuitous sex, all the more remarkable since it is about love and imagination. Hooray.
The movie raises the whole issue of nostalgia and reverie— that is the idea that some previous era and place in time was a golden age, and it would have been better to have lived then and there. Of course the movie also admits that this attitude comes from the perceived blandness or harshness or difficulties of one’s present (cue Crosby Stills, and Nash’s Deja Vu, or Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’— ” we are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden”).
In one sense, ‘Midnight in Paris’ is a fantasy within a fantasy because, what if one could really go back in time to one’s favored era and place (in this case Paris), and meet someone lovely to love, only to discover that that person in fact has the same fantasy that a previous even earlier epoch was ‘la belle epoche’? Alas, we are never satisfied with the present are we? And so the fantasy love turns out to have the same problem as the fantasizer.
One reason to see this movie is its gorgeous views of Paris. The cinematography is spectacular, and it made me want to jump on a plane to Charles de Gaulle airport right now. This is an excellent date movie as well, its romantic, but it also has a realism to it, for it tells the tale of a man who has settled on marrying someone who, while beautiful, really has little in common with him, even on the major things in life. I have loved many Woody Allen films over the years (some are hilarious—- Bananas or Love and Death, and some are poignant like the Purple Rose of Cairo), but this new movie has a different sort of charm without the earlier whimsy and laughs and witty dialogue of the Allen ouevre.
I have to admit, I am not a big Owen Wilson fan, although his Museum films were pretty enjoyable. He is not really a great actor at all, but in this film he is believable enough as a romantic and successful Hollywood script writer who longs to become a great novelist. Thus, he joins his fiance and her right wing parents on a business trip (her father’s business) to Paris. But in Paris something magical happens at midnight.
No, Mr. Pender, as the writer is called, does not meet Cinderella but a coach from a previous era shows up, he gets in, and suddenly he is in Paris in the 20s meeting all his heroes— Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, Gauguin, Matisse, Dali, Gertrude Stein (played effectively by Kathy Bates) Latrec, Cole Porter, and I could go on. It’s a veritable literary and artistic Who’s Who that he is suddenly hanging out with. But what he really wants is someone to help him write a better novel, and what Hemingway wants to teach him is that if he will just fall truly in love with someone, the passion will make him forget his fear of death (and lesser failures), at least momentarily.
Writers of course, at least good ones, are often very right brained and live in their imaginations. Allen has had the good sense just to show us that process in a short tale. Gil Pender however doesn’t lose his grip on reality. Indeed, he comes to his senses just in time to get himself unengaged to ‘Miss Wrong’ and to take the brave risk of trying to become a novelist in Paris, writing the great American novel. The best advice he gets is indeed from Hemingway who says that a novel needs to be authentic and real to be embraced by a real audience. Even a romantic fantasy needs to have verisimilitude, or believability to some degree.
The Parisians in this movie in fact turn out to be quite charming, especially the female ones. And it is important to the story that we learn the lesson that know-it-alls as opposed to the humble often scare away their admirers just because of their arrogance. But Gil is not arrogant, he is both naive and a dreamer, and he is in danger of settling for less than the best for his life and work and life partner. Who knew Paris could bring a man to his senses while at the same time firing his imagination? This movie is probably the romantic reverie of the summer, and with a light touch and some humor. A good time will be had by all who view it.
And if you are looking for the perfect frommage to go along with the ‘vin’ of Allen’s film, I can highly suggest you run out and buy the very fine new CD by Michael Franks entitled ‘Time Together’. This is the best album he has done in a very long time, perhaps the very best since ‘Blue Pacific’ (my favorite of all his albums). This album is full of his usual clever lyrics and turns of phrase as well as the full gamut of his styles of music (except the more rock edge of some of his Skin Dive period tunes). We get samba, we get Latino, we get Brazilian jazz, we get a little classic jazz in the style of Bill Evans and the gang. This is the perfect CD for a quiet summer meal with friends (it starts off with several odes to summer including ‘Now that the Summer is Here’). But the reason this frommage especially goes well with the ‘vin’ of that film is the song ‘Samba Blue’ all about love in the summer in Paris, the lyrics of which are in part the following—–
“Sharing a warm baguette/ with coffee with hanesette
We kissed in the Metro/ in love very retro”
“We’re together again/ by the Seine”
“On la grande avenue/me and you…”
You get the picture….. Woody Allen needed this CD as the soundtrack for his film.