Midnight In Paris

July, 2011, Comedy

Directed by:Woody Allen

Starring:Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, and Michael Sheen

 

 

Midnight In Paris

Before the end of this year, Allen Konigsberg, (a.k.a. Woody Allen) will celebrate his 77th birthday and his 65th year in show business - - first as a gag writer, then a director and finally as an actor (often the lead) in his own films. Working with a small production team, Allen writes nearly everything he directs and still finds time to play jazz clarinet at joints near his home in Manhattan. His 44 feature films contain some of the most highly regarded comedies of the last half-century-Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah & Her Sisters, to name just three. Save for the odd drama (Match Point) Allen has stayed with comedies, his main strength - - he’s to film what Neil Simon is to theater, an enormously successful American icon. Allen’s blend of Jewish angst, self-mocking depreciation and brilliant one-liners is so consistent he’s become a walking definition of the movie director as auteur. So why are most of his movies like run-of-the-mill Chinese dinners- - forgotten almost as soon as they’re consumed?

Allen’s latest takes a small conceit (a “blocked” author who can’t finish his novel encounters his literary heroes during nocturnal strolls through Paris) and manages to burden this reed-thin storyline with Allen’s typical script - full of self-referential observations about the creative process, the existential duty to live life in the face of its patent absurdity and the emotional costs of missed opportunities. Despite some lovely images of the City of Light, and a crisp turn by Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Midnight ‘s plot quickly becomes tediously repetitious as Gil (Owen Wilson) a successful screenwriter of Hollywood comedies, returns to Paris with his shrewish fiancée and her parents to shop for furnishings for the couple’s new Malibu home. As he tries to find his way back to his hotel one evening after a night of drinking, he’s picked up by 1920’s roadster full of literary giants who whisk him off, via time-travel, back to the Paris in the ‘20’s where he meets Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the aforementioned Ms. Stein and T.S. Eliot to name a few - - before also being introduced to Picasso, Dali, Matisse and even cinema’s Luis Bunuel. These intellectual giants guide Gil into finding a new love while discovering the proper way to re-write his novel…

The director’s far too gifted to make this exercise entirely void of clever bits - - there are some genuinely amusing moments and those in the audience will find it hard to resist comparing their pre-conceived impressions of these cultural giants with Allen’s. But as is too often the case in the director’s comedies, the hero becomes a mouthpiece for Allen’s ego and that shows through in the turgid lines Wilson’s given as he engages with these historic figures in exchanges which inevitably make Gil appear more insightful and intellectually gifted those with whom he comes in contact.

As Gil, Wilson stumbles through an unlikely transition from inarticulate cuckold to sophisticated raconteur; as his vituperative mate-in-waiting, the otherwise delightful comedian Rachael MacAdams (Wedding Crashers, The Family Stone) plays her bitchy role with such a strident tone it strains the story’s credibility well beyond the leap of faith required to imagine Academy Award Winner Adrian Brody vamping as Salvador Dali, turning the artist into something of a freak show.  It’s in his depiction of these cultural icons that Allen displays an ugly egoism  - - As Allen’s stand-in, Gil manages to appear brighter and more insightful than all the talented geniuses Allen puts in his screenplay - - and well before the end of this overly-long 94 minute exercise in self-congratulation, audiences will find themselves thoroughly irritated.

 

The Verdict? An ego hard at work boring his public.

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