Friday, July 8, 2011

Rants on Midnight in Paris

Somewhere between the lame jokes about the Tea Party and the Rachel McAdams' character's swift change from "wrong for the lead character" to "complete and utter miserable cunt," I realized something very important while watching Midnight in Paris: I'm just not into Woody Allen anymore. Gone are the glory days of a filmmaker who once made great films as diverse as Sleeper, Annie Hall, Interiors, Bullets Over Broadway and Everyone Says I Love You. It's obvious the Woodman is content making the same shitty movie, set in a different European city, over and over again and it's time I have accepted this. The fact that Midnight in Paris is Woody's most inspired script in ages says more about the decline of his work post-Match Point than the script's actual quality.

The film begins with a generic-looking montage of Paris, complete with images of Paris' famous sights and the charming "old world" street corners and cafés that the city is famous for. These are the kind of images one expects when thinking about Paris, but they do nothing to elicit anything new or interesting about the city; it's a five minute establishing shot that both runs far too long and adds less to the story than the establishing shot of the house in the Golden Girls at the beginning of every episode. If the generic-ness of these establishing shots does anything, it clues us into the generic-ness of everything that follows. Gil (Owen Wilson) is a would-be novelist, a hacky screenwriter with a girlfriend who clearly doesn't value him or his interests. True to the Woody Allen-type, he hates everything about the present and idealizes the past--he yearns to live in Paris in the 1920's, the so-called Golden Age. Everything in the first part of the film is stuff we have seen from Woody before: a bumbling artist who feels soiled by financial success, a shrewish girlfriend, ignorant Republican parents, pretentious a-holes who are experts in every subject that could ever possibly come up in conversation.

In the second part, however, Woody begins to raise his game. After getting lost in the city, strangers in a 1920's-style car pull up next to Gil and take him a party. With people dressed up in flapper-era outfits and someone singing Cole Porter songs on a piano, Gil is both bewildered and amused at just how far these people went to have an authentic party. But when he meets Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and, later on, Ernest Hemingway, everything begins to click for him: the car has somehow taken him back to 1920's Paris. He goes back every night, meeting Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Dalí and, most importantly, a beautiful Frenchwoman named Adriana that he eventually falls in love with. On its surface, this sequence works because these caricatures of famous people are more alive, funny and simply more interesting than anyone in the "real life" part of the film. Who honestly would rather watch Michael Sheen pretend to be a smarmy ass than see Adrien Brody repeat the word "rhinoceros" over and over again with a funny accent? It's not Annie Hall, that's for sure, but it's the closest thing to comedy in this film.

After the initial charm of this fantasy sequence wares off, it is clear that even this so-called original sequence isn't particularly original in the oeuvre of Woody Allen. Gil's character uses this fantasy world as an escape from the blahs of his everyday life that he can't stand, but, eventually, he realizes that living in another world (the past) will always appear ideal precisely because it is an escape from real life. Switching 30's Escapism for 20's Paris, isn't this basically the same message of The Purple Rose of Cairo? And, even though I'm not that film's biggest supporter, didn't it feel like Purple Rose carried that message in far more interesting and complicated ways than Midnight in Paris? That whole segment of the film was supposed to be a fantasy, so why did it feel as turgid and listless as the real life scenes? Nothing about the 1920's scenes pop or set them apart from the modern day scenes other than the fact that they are more "fun" and energetic (which is a moot point since anything this side of The Roommate would look more interesting compared to the modern day scenes); there is nothing particularly interesting visually, nor does Woody's writing get any more in tuned either comedically or dramatically. In the end, Woody wasted a valuable opportunity to make these scenes more than just perfunctory.

It's even more of a shame since the rest of the film is more inept visually and writing-wise. When a random, subtle long take in the beginning of the film is the most in-depth camerawork you attempt, you know you are in for a load of trouble. You could forgive Woody that if his writing was up to par, but I have not seen such a lazy, vile and all-around disgusting piece of writing turn up in quite some time. What in the Christ was that shit? The whole thing felt like a rough draft where you are just throwing ideas down so you don't forget them but fully intend on going back and edit, edit, edit. For a comedy, there were no funny lines. The only times I remember audibly laughing were during Brody's cameo as Dalí and when Zelda Fitzgerald said that funny line about only being good at drinking (I can relate, gurl). Then there was that all-around ridiculous moment where Gil, in the present day, discovers a diary written by Adriana at some local used book vendor. It's written in French so he has someone translate for him and the diary specifically talks about Gil and describes the first time they made love. What? First of all, how in the fuck does Gil know it was Adriana's diary if he has no clue how to read French? That literally could have been any woman's diary. Secondly, why is this the one time Woody decides to make the fantasy sequence really fantstical? The 1920's scenes are as straight-forward as the rest of the film, yet he feels the need to really up the ante in this one moment that, ultimately, only leads to a failed moment of "comedy" with the awful Rachel McAdams character and her awful parents.

And can we talk about the Rachel McAdams character for a second? I had heard reports about her being a horrible shrew character in the typical Woody Allen fashion, but, in the beginning of the film, I thought that was all just hype. She wasn't exactly a lovely character, but she wasn't exactly a spawn of Satan either. Then, as the film progressed, she became a little more awful in each scene. By the end of the film, she wasn't even recognizable as a human being anymore. The character became such a soulless, whiny brat, flapping her arms and throwing a tantrum whenever something didn't go her way, I'm surprised one of the moms from Toddlers & Tiaras didn't give her a spray tan and put her in a kiddie pageant. It's obvious Woody hated this character, the Killer of Artistic Aspirations, but is too much to ask for a character and not just a woman who spits bile like a velociraptor?

If you thought the voiceovers in Vicky Cristina Barcelona were as shoddily written as I did, wait until you get the ending of Midnight in Paris. For 85 minutes, I had followed this film, at first bored, then slightly intrigued, then bored again, then hating my life for enduring this increasingly awful pile of shit. Then, that ending happened. Gil, after dumping his girlfriend, runs into a Frenchwoman he had met earlier who sells vintage records in a street market. She likes Cole Porter (SO DOES GIL!). She finds the past dreamy and romantic (SO DOES GIL!). When it starts to rain, she comments that she finds walking in the rain romantic (SO DOES GIL!). It was as if Woody had made a checklist of all the things Gil had mentioned in the film that he liked and made sure this caricature of a young, non-threatening, not particularly intellectual woman listed them off as her likes as well. And then the film ends with them walking off together in the rain, realizing they are, in fact, soul mates. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME, WOODY, WITH THIS ENDING? I couldn't believe what I had just seen. Romantic comedies starring J. Lo have ended with less clichés and less pat conclusions. You know, there are ways of ending romantic comedies that don't make your eyes roll back in your head from sheer stupidity.

It's disheartening to see that Woody has plain given up in all aspects of moviemaking. His humor use to be so precise and specific that it wasn't for everyone; now, his writing and filmmaking is so generic I could see even non-Woody fans like my mother watching this film and finding it bearable. And it appears they have, since this film is on track to surpass Woody's highest grossing film in America, Hannah and Her Sisters. I...don't even know what to say about that. America, you continue to surprise me. And by surprise, I mean embarrass and confound. D

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