J. Alfred Prufrock Is Like My Mantra: Midnight In Paris (2011)

Prior to viewing Midnight In Paris I was on the verge of discrediting the contemporary works of Woody Allen.  While he is certainly a comedic master and a fine filmmaker, I was beginning to believe that his films post 2000 were nothing more than increasingly senile diatribes that egregiously missed their mark.  This belief stood fast until I was about twenty or so minutes into Midnight In Paris and realized that Woody Allen was offering up something very intimate and sentimental that was artistically poignant while still adhering to the personal existentialism so key to classic Woody Allen films.  What this film offers is a bittersweet reflection by the aging director on both the beauty and tragedy of nostalgia and how such longing for the past only causes individuals to ignore their own present.  This ignorance towards the present is precisely what Allen's film focuses on, particularly as it relates to a person who finds himself becoming increasingly distant from his fiance and her peers.  Instead of focusing on the woes of aging, Allen creates an all-encompassing study of a often asked question.  That question being "Do I Belong Here?," and as Allen shows, through his film, the answer is rarely ever a simple one.

Midnight in Paris places it primary focus on Gil (Owen Wilson) a successful, but jaded, Hollywood screenwriter who has decided to pursue penning his own novel about a person who owns a nostalgia shop.  Gil is joined by his disapproving fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) who dismisses Gil's ponderings in favor of wooing over her friends husband Paul (Michael Sheen).  While attempting to find inclusion within his wife's group of friends Gil realizes he is unwanted and takes up a tipsy trip through the streets of Paris.  While stopping to take a breather and recalculate his route home, Gil is approached by a twenties era car whose occupants demand he join them.  Reluctantly, Gil gets into the car to find people matching the cars look in their 1920's wardrobe and speech.  Through passing conversation, Gil realizes that he is in a car with F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Zelda (Alison Pill).  Bewildered Gil begins to verify whether or not he is truly residing in the world of 1920's Paris.  He eventually runs into Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) and others, even taking a moment to suggest a plot for a film to Luis Bunuel (Adrien de Van), which film buffs will recognize as The Exterminating Angel.  Through all this, Gil meets a woman named Adriana (Marion Cotillard) who he falls for instantly.  However, each morning Gil awakes to his real world in the present day seeking only to return to the Paris of the 1920's, while ignoring his crumbling engagement and the rather blatant infidelity of his wife.  Spurred on by the music of Cole Porter and the discovery of Adriana's journal in the present day, which mentions his exact words from a conversation the two shared the night before, Gil sets out to understand his own attachment to this other world of the past.  On one particular night, Gil follows Adriana on her own trip to France at the turn of the 19th century in which Adriana insists they stay.  It is only now that Gil realizes the flaws of his own nostalgic and illogical attachments to a time gone by and upon explaining his realization to Adriana, Gil returns to his time to end things with his fiance and wander the streets of Paris.  This ability to disconnect from the seemingly inextricable ties of nostalgia allow for Gil to meet a woman on the streets of Paris thus ending the film with the two of them walking the streets of Paris in a poetic and sweet closing shot.

I mentioned the sentimentality of this film in the opening sentences of this review.  I find it rather notable coming from a director like Woody Allen whose staunch pessimism has always found its way into his movies in the past.  Whether it be Annie Hall or Bananas Allen's films remind viewers that reality usually lets us down, and that all does not end well.  However, Midnight In Paris does not do these things, in fact, it does the opposite.  In this film the guy gets the girl, all be it a girl who appears only momentarily throughout the film and is not the one viewers expect.   More importantly, however, the character matures.  In all of the other Allen films I can recall, Allen's characters, often played by the director himself, never advance and often stick to their old ways arguing that putting themselves on the line would only prove hazardous.  In Midnight In Paris this is not the case, Gil absolutely puts himself out in the open for change.  After desperate flailing and a rather harsh taste of reality, Gil accepts his own place in society and advances forward as opposed to staying stagnantly in the present, an absolutely mature approach to narrative from Woody Allen.  Perhaps it is Allen's late age or love for old school movies, but if it were not for the occasional Freud inspired joke I would have had trouble placing this as a Woody Allen film and thought it more of a film Wes Anderson might make twenty years from now.  Regardless, Midnight In Paris is a sobering look at aging and the past and is a promising reminder of how truly prolific of a filmmaker Woody Allen can be, hopefully, we will see many more films of this nature from the director in the years to come.

This is an absolutely gorgeous film and one of the best of the year.  It is still making its way through the smaller theaters and there is no reason that you should not make it a goal of yours to see it before the New Year.  More importantly, remember, when in doubt, it is all a rhinoceros.

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