Midnight in Paris

This is from my film review assignment for a class. Since I haven’t had a chance to post anything on here, here’s something =)

Midnight in Paris

         The romantic comedy “Midnight in Paris” is director Woody Allen’s nostalgic ode to the city of Paris. The film begs for the audience to think about the past. Why do we reminisce about old memories? What makes us romanticize them? Allen sets his film in Paris to explore these central questions.
Thus the City of Light unites all the characters in the film in an existential journey of self-exploration and ennui. While it is largely based on the life of a Hollywood screenwriter and aspiring novelist Gil (Owen Wilson), the first three minutes of “Midnight in Paris” feature different parts of the city in a musical montage. The audience sees some of Paris’ most famous sites like the Louvre, Musee des Arts Forains, Musee Rodin, Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, Place Dauphin and the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore.   The different emotions that Paris evokes in the film’s characters are fundamental to their growth.
The movie follows Gil’s journey of self-growth and development as a writer, and the nostalgia that polishes it. It is a poignant story about idealism, dreams and yearning for the past. In fact, Gil’s novel is a parallel to his own life as it features something called a “nostalgia shop.” It is even more interesting that Owen Wilson as Gil caricatures Woody Allen himself in a real-life parallel to the film. This captures Allen’s classic comic style that has come to characterize his films, like Zelig.
Gil is engaged to be married to Inez (Rachel McAdams), a wealthy young woman who yearns for the status quo like her Republican and successful parents. While Inez wants to settle in the young city of luxury, Malibu, Gil is nostalgic for Paris in the 1920s. Though the two characters proclaim their love at the start of the film, their different dreams and ideals in life leads them apart. Paris in the rain, a romantic image in Gil’s mind is very unattractive to Inez, and that’s the beginning of a drift in their relationship.
This is the first film after The Wedding Crashers starring Rachel McAdams and Owen Wilson on-screen together, and both actors do an excellent job in their parts, although this film shows the characters growing apart, unlike The Wedding Crashers. Wilson plays the role of a distracted Californian Gatsby who yearns for inspiration in Paris just as the Fitzgerald character had looked for a green light of hope in The Great Gatsby.  McAdams, on the other hand captures an enterprising young woman of wealth who has clear – albeit materialistic – goals in life. Both actors are well-suited to their parts, and in fact Woody Allen re-wrote the screenplay to make the idealist Gil more of a West Coast character than he originally was.
Gil’s writing and his words all show a desire to recreate the present and a longing for the Lost Generation: Earnest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot etc., all literary idols who have caricaturist cameos in the film.  The film explores the theme of every generation yearning for a “golden age” in the past. This is demonstrated best when a lead love interest in the film, the lovely and alluring Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who is Pablo Picasso’s mistress, is shown to be nostalgic for La Belle Epoque and late 19th century Europe. While Gil desires for adventure in the Roaring Twenties, Adriana for cultural modernity in a pre-World War I France. Thus Woody Allen explores nostalgia and an innate human desire for the past.
A theme of reality versus illusion also casts its shadow on a film that is characteristic of Woody Allen’s caricature comedy style. Paul (Michael Sheen), a pseudo-intellectual character with little regard to history inspires Gil’s bored love interest Inez. This is most clear in a scene in which the tour guide, played by French First Lady Carla Bruni, corrects a self-righteous Paul about historical facts. The film is a critique of the age of modernism, in which people today are enchanted by pretense and fakeness.
The film is very successful in how it uses lighting and music to recreate this theme of yearning and nostalgia in its audience’s minds. The music is cascading, and its soft tones create a romanticized atmosphere. The Jazz Age is emphasized through carefully selected tracks. The film is characterized by songs like the Cole Porter classic “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love”, seducing the audience to fall in love with Paris. The film is heavily visual, with the 1920s revelry contrasted with La Belle Epoque, and of course, the present with the year 2011. The camera lens filter creates a sense of timelessness, recreating Paris for the audience.
Midnight in Paris is magical, the film suggests, and every midnight, Gil waits on the steps of Rue Montagne St. Genevieve for a  1920s Peugeot Landaulet to transport him to a time and age he thirsts for. This surreal image is transfixed in the audience’s minds as they too relate to his feelings and yearn for a past as created in Midnight in Paris.


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