Woody Allen: Genius writer, director, and actor—or narcissistic distorter of reality? Both, would be my answer, and Midnight in Paris leans toward the genius side of him. The dialog, the cinematography, the casting, and the characters will all remind you of someone in your own life—or sadly, possibly yourself. It’s a trip all right, and one worth taking.
I think Woody Allen inserts the narrator (usually himself) into his films better than any writer in film today. You find yourself watching him even when other characters are speaking, so you hear the words of the other characters and you see the narrator’s reaction, which gives you the point of view Allen wants you to see. It’s all about him. When he used to play the narrator himself, you could really “feel” Woody’s genius and his insanity. His face is an open book.
But now that Woody is getting older, he has found the perfect stand-in for his younger self in Owen Wilson. Wilson has great timing. You can see the words on his face, and you can sense his discomfort and his loneliness. Until I saw this movie I was not a fan of Owen Wilson (OK, I was a little bit of a fan in Marley and Me), but I love him in this role.
What also really hit home is how Woody Allen’s character never fits in anywhere. He doesn’t fit in with his future in-laws, he doesn’t fit in with the literary set of 1920s Paris, and he doesn’t fit in with Hollywood, even though he’s considered a success there. This made me realize that in all his films his character is a part of the scenery of life, but never in the middle of it, or really a part of it. And why should this surprise me? Woody Allen doesn’t fit in anywhere either—certainly not in Hollywood. He travels the world alone, and somehow he is not the worse for it, or at least not in his films.
I also realized that the plot in Midnight in Paris is sort of irrelevant, which is true with most of Woody’s films. He takes a slice of any time in his life and adds undercurrents of absurdity, humor, and dare I say, the strengths and weaknesses we all have? He is not about the results, but rather the journey. In other directors’ films you wonder halfway through how they will end, but in Allen’s films, the ending is obvious from the very beginning, and the ride is what matters.
Setting has never been so relevant in a Woody Allen film as it is in Midnight in Paris. The Parisian setting is everything, and I think it’s the first time I’ve seen that from him. Allen clearly loves Paris, and though I spent considerable time there when I was married to a Frenchman, I never saw it the way he does. It’s sort of an added benefit: come see Midnight in Paris and also get a magnificent tour of Paris’ cobblestone streets. France should use segments of this movie in their “Come See Paris” ads, if they do them.
Sometimes I don’t like Woody Allen’s films. Sometimes I find them silly or unbelievable. Sometimes I like a part of the film and not the rest of it, as in Annie Hall. Sometimes I don’t want to go because I’m still mad at him for seducing his stepdaughter, regardless of her age. But maybe the new me, non-judgemental and filled with forgiveness, is open to really enjoying Woody’s gifts in Midnight in Paris. I really liked this movie. It made me like Paris again, it made me want to learn more about the literary peeps he inserted into the film, and it made me appreciate once again that there truly is a difference between great films and commercial films that bring in a lot of money.