REVIEW: “Midnight in Paris”

MIDNIGHT POSTER

Without a doubt the romantic comedy is one of the weaker movie genres and has been for years. But sometimes we get a special gem that reminds us of just how fun these types of movies can be. “Midnight in Paris”, written and directed by Woody Allen, is a crash course in the art of making a romantic comedy. It is loaded with heart and feeling and doesn’t trudge down the same path as so many failed films of this genre. It’s a movie that captures the magic of it’s location and the inner workings of it’s characters. It’s clever and unique while maintaining a true romantic feel and sense of humor.

“Midnight in Paris” opens with a picturesque three-minute montage focusing on the beauty of Paris, France. It gracefully moves from one exquisitely framed shot to another, showing us historical landmarks, museums, cafes, and more all set to the lovely “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere”. It elegantly sets up the city of Paris as not only a central character in the film, but an enchanting and magical force whose influence is seen throughout the picture. In many ways Woody Allen is celebrating Paris. He wants us to love the city and appreciate the mystique of it’s rich history just as much as his main character does. Allen’s desire works. I was instantly grabbed and found myself totally lost in what I was seeing on the screen.

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While Paris is at the heart of the story, the main character is Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a hack Hollywood screenwriter who is visiting the city with his fiancée and her parents. Gil loves everything about Paris and to this day regrets his decision not to move there when he had a chance several years ago. He feels he was meant for more than writing screenplays but he struggles with confidence. He doesn’t feel comfortable in today’s world and believes he would be a better fit in the 1920s. His fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) is a spoiled momma’s girl who spends more time insulting Gil than supporting him. There is clearly a disconnect between the two. He loves Paris and she doesn’t. He’s working on a novel that he thinks will change his career and she thinks he’s wasting his time. He enjoys the small details in life while she would rather milk it for it’s benefits.

While in Paris they run into Paul (Michael Sheen), Inez’s old friend and self-proclaimed expert on everything from art to French culture to fine wines. Inez seems infatuated with Paul’s knowledge regardless of how many facts he gets wrong in his efforts to impress everyone. Needing to get away, Gil takes off on a late night walk. After getting lost, he is picked up by a group of partiers in an old classic car who magically transport him back to 1920s Paris. Here he meets many of his literary and artistic heroes such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso, and Stein. He also meets the lovely Adriana (played wonderfully by Marion Cotillard) who he grows more attracted to with each midnight visit.

The fantasy turn of Allen’s story did feel a bit out of the blue at first but it didn’t take long before I was enthralled with what I was seeing. Gil’s golden age is recreated flawlessly from the music and atmosphere to the careful attention to detail. I loved seeing these authors, painters, composers, and filmmakers of old fleshed out through some fantastic performances. Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill are absolutely brilliant as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. I also loved Marcial Di Fonzo Bo as Picasso and Adrien Brody as Dali, both in smaller but fun roles. And then there’s Corey Stoll as Hemingway who steals many of the scenes he’s in. The supporting cast is such a wonderful ingredient to the film’s charm.

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But in terms of acting it’s Owen Wilson that really blew me away. In many ways he plays a character that really fits him. We’ve seen elements of this performance in other roles of his but here everything is perfectly measured and controlled. Even though Woody Allen has stated he gave Wilson a lot of room to work, it’s clear that Allen has a solid influence on his performance. I’ve been really lukewarm concerning most of Wilson’s past work but he really, really impressed me here. He dials it back a bit and never allows his performance to drown out the material.

“Midnight in Paris” does call for the audience to just buy into it’s fantasy angle and if you struggle with that you may struggle with this picture. It also turns out to be fairly predictable in places. But these small gripes do nothing to kill the magic of this picture for me. This is certainly a love letter to Paris, but it’s also a lesson on living in the present. Allen reminds us that the golden age so many long for isn’t that different from where we are now. It’s a beautiful film both visually and structurally and it moves along at an almost poetic pace. Better yet, “Midnight in Paris” is a film that gives us hope for a struggling genre. I love this movie.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M

FIVE GREAT SCENES FROM “MIDNIGHT IN PARIS”

Ok, I’ve never been what you would call a Woody Allen fan. That being said, I can’t express how much I enjoy “Midnight in Paris. It’s a movie that features some great laughs and the best performance from a usually annoying Owen Wilson. It’s a romance film but not in the traditional sense. The true love of the movie is the city and it’s magic. It’s the city that brings Gil Pender (Wilson) to realize some very important things about himself and his life. It’s the city that Gil’s in love with and it’s the city that helps him get on the right path in life.

Now I know that one reason I responded so strongly to this movie was because of my current trip to Paris. As I sit here soaking up all this glorious place has to offer, I understand what Allen in conveying in his film. Paris is a city like no other. It’s living and breathing. It’s a place filled with history, style, and beauty, all things that “Midnight in Paris” presents. So my opinion of the movie is most certainly influenced by my expectations of what I’m now experiencing here in Paris, France.

But let’s not get bogged down in just that. “Midnight in Paris” is also laugh out loud hilarious. The characters are fantastic and for my money it features some of Woody Allen’s best writing. Filmed at various locations here in Paris (some we have already visited), Allen places his characters right in the middle of this city both past and present day. The performances are top-notch and the feeling of nostalgia is impossible to deny. It’s a beautiful film that I just love talking about.

So, before we head off to a local cafe and take a stroll in the Latin Quarter, I thought I would share five great scenes from this movie I love. Now, last Sunday I did a Phenomenal 5 on Paris movie scenes and #2 was the gorgeous opening montage of “Midnight in Paris”. Since I’ve already used it I’ll leave it out here. But it is an amazing opening sequence that I have watched over and over. These scenes I have picked are just samples of what makes this movie so good. Great laughs, great characters, great performances, great city!

 #1 – GIL MEETS THE FITZGERALDS

One of my favorite scenes in “Midnight in Paris” is where Gil meets Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (played brilliantly by Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston). After getting lost in the streets of Paris, Gil is picked up by an antique car which whisks him away to 1920’s Paris. He arrives at a bar where a party is going on and bumps into the Fitzgeralds. Gil’s confusion mixed with amazing portrayals from Hiddleston and Pill make this a hysterical scene. And even though it’s completely preposterous, the environment, the music, and the performances make this strikingly believable. Hiddleston alone makes this scene with his chipper expressions and hilarious line deliveries. I love it.

#2 – DEBATE AT THE RODIN MUSEUM

We all know people like Paul (Michael Sheen) from “Midnight in Paris”. He’s one of those who thinks he’s a lot smarter than he actually is. He’s an old friend of Gil’s fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and she is enamored by his immense knowledge of Paris and it’s history even though most of his “knowledge” is flat-out wrong. A great example of this is the scene in the gardens at the Rodin Museum. Paul, flexing his pseudo-intellectual muscle, actually argues with the museum tour guide regarding Rodin’s past relationships. Paul is clearly wrong, but you know guys like this, they’ll never be convinced of it. Sheen’s delivery is hilarious and Rodin himself couldn’t have convinced this know-it-all otherwise. *(Yes, I know this photo isn’t from the Rodin Museum scene but it perfectly captures the Paul character).

#3 – A CHAT WITH HEMINGWAY

Corey Stoll’s portrayal of Earnest Hemingway was absolutely phenomenal. We’re introduced to him after Gil leaves the above mentioned party with the Fitzgeralds in search of more lively entertainment. They enter a bar where Hemingway is sitting alone in the corner. We just stand there alongside Gil and watch as a hilarious conversation takes place between Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. It’s clear that Zelda doesn’t like Earnest and she takes off. F. Scott soon follows leaving Gil to share a conversation about life and  writing with one of his literary idols. Stoll speaks like Hemingway wrote which adds an ever funnier element to their conversation. This is a key moment in the film that begins Gil’s new perspective on life. It’s also extremely funny.

#4 – A NIGHT WALK WITH ADRIANA

After several trips back in time, Gil finds himself mesmerized by the beautiful Adriana (Marion Cotillard). He finally gets some meaningful time alone with her as they share a romantic walk on a beautiful Paris night. The cool 1920’s feel mixed with the beauty of the city of lights is the perfect setting for the movie’s most romantic scene. Woody Allen also uses Gil to once again speak of the allure of the city. It makes you question who he’s attracted to more, Adriana or the city? This is such a wonderful scene that moves which such grace, all as the equally beautiful “Parlez-moi d’amour” plays in the background. Call me a sap but this is a great scene.

#5 –  PARIS IN THE RAIN

The movie ends with Gil walking alone in the Paris night. He’s broken it off with Inez and has realized his desire for the past was misguided and that every era has their own problems. Unsure of everything, he bumps into Gabrielle (Lea Seydoux) again on the beautiful Pont Alexandre III bridge. The two strike up a conversation and Gil tells her that he will be staying in Paris. There is an obvious attraction between them which is only solidified when a small rain shower pops up. The two walk off together enjoying the rain and the city. While Gil thought he once again had no direction in his life, Paris takes him by the hand and sets his course. What a great way to end the movie.

Well, that’s all for now. I have fountains, paintings, a buttered baguette, and a cozy cafe in my immediate future. What did you think of “Midnight in Paris”. Hopefully you liked it as much as I did. Please fell free to share your thoughts on it. And until I hit the states again…au revior.

“BEAUTIFUL BOY” – 3 1/2 STARS

It’s hard to know how to take some movies inspired by real-life tragic events ripped from the newspaper headlines. They can sometimes be sobering and enlightening while others can be exploitative and irreverent. “Beautiful Boy” is a crushing drama that deals with the agony of a school shooting but from a different point of view. It’s obvious similarity to the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre is not by accident. Director and co-writer Shawn Ku’s connection to the college not only helped inspire the story but is one reason this intense subject matter is handled with such care and respect. The thrust of story doesn’t center on the horrible event itself. Instead its focus is on the devastating effects the massacre has on the shooter’s parents.

Maria Bello and Michael Sheen play Kate and Bill, a disconnected married couple on the road to separation. The one single thread holding them together is their son Sam (Kyle Gallner). Sam is a college freshman who has struggled adjusting to campus life. Sam calls home one night trying to hide his despondency from his parents. Bill and Kate attribute his emotion to the pressures of college life. But the next morning police arrive at their home to inform them that Sam has opened fire at his school killing 17 people before taking his own life. This all happens early in the movie while the rest of the film explores the brutal effects it has on Bill and Kate’s already strained relationship.

While Sam’s actions play a key role in the story they serve more as a backdrop. We don’t get inside Sam’s head and really examine his motives and some may have a problem with that. But it’s no problem for me since the movie’s intention is to look at a marriage on the brink of dissolution. Both Bello and Sheen deliver grounded performances that often times result in scenes driven by realistic, raw emotion. Their son’s acts cause them to face issues simmering beneath the surface of their marriage and their reactions feel natural and true. You watch as the chasm between them grows wider yet no one understands what they’re going through except each other. It’s an interesting dynamic that works more often times than not.

The movie does require the audience to automatically connect with Bill and Kate. We never get much insight into their relationship prior to the shooting. We see their relationship is strained but it’s hard to connect with them other than through their emotional devastation brought on by the loss of their son and the horrible circumstances surrounding it. I really felt for them especially as we see them deal with things such as the media camped out on their lawn, having to issue a public statement, and the stares of curious neighbors and co-workers all on top of their personal loss. But their relationship could have been easier to invest in if we were given more early in the film.

The movie also has an inconsistent visual style. At times it seems to be intentionally striving for a more artsy look with quick camera sweeps and strategic camera angles. Other times it looks very generic and by-the-book. I also wasn’t a big fan of the rather drab color palette. The movie seems soaked in blues and grays. Obviously this was intentional and I’m sure it was meant to convey the overall mood of the picture. But it was a little too much for me.

Even with its flaws “Beautiful Boy” can be a powerful film that handles some tricky and weighty subject matter with care and compassion. It was certainly a different approach seeing this type of horrifying event through the eyes of the parents and while their marriage isn’t opened as much as I wished, it’s impossible not to moved by the emotional distress this couple faces. Shawn Ku handles the material seriously and truthfully and some fine performances from Sheen and Bello help make up for the film’s shortcomings.