CINEMA by Symeon J. ThompsonNews Weekly
Magical romantic comedy set in Paris
, October 11, 2014
Two Woody Allen films, Midnight in Paris (2011) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014), both rated PG, are discussed by Symeon J. Thompson.
Midnight in Paris poster
In Magic in the Moonlight, Colin Firth plays an illusionist with a taste for debunking the supernatural. He is asked to look into the case of a pretty young medium, played by Emma Stone, who has been making inroads with a wealthy American family. The stage is set for laughs and tears with this romantic comedy set in France in the late 1920s. Plus, there is the chance there may be some insights into the human condition as the man behind this movie is Woody Allen.
Woody Allen has been known, and critically acclaimed, for his ability to explore the issues of the modern world in a way that is both serious and humorous. His neurotic New Yorker schtick, which always seems to be Allen being himself, allows him to chat with his audience as if they were his therapist. It provides another layer, and is one of the many distinct features of his work.
Conjuring provides an intriguing lens through which to view the world. It often relies upon misdirection, of making the audience focus on one thing while ignoring another. In this spirit, I thought I might try my own, cheap and cheerful, sleight of hand.
Magic in the Moonlight has just come out; but let’s face it, no one thinks it’s Woody’s best work. So, let’s talk about that other French movie he made, the one that was definitely magical — Midnight in Paris.
Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is an American screenwriter engaged to the materialistic Inez (Rachel McAdams). They’re on holiday in Paris with Inez’s wealthy parents.
Gil loves the romance and poetry of Paris, with all its artistic history and rich colour. He dreams of writing a novel, and becoming a part of that vibrant, creative life. Inez prefers Malibu. And shopping. And her parents prefer loud but forgettable films — quite literally, they cannot remember the name of the films they’ve enjoyed.
The couple bump into Paul Bates (Michael Sheen) and his wife Carol (Nina Arianda). Paul is an old “friend” of Inez’s, and the couple are “honoured” with his detailed and extensive knowledge of all things French as they travel around the place.
Inez loves it, Gil loathes it, and the audience is inclined to agree with Gil that Paul’s a pretentious sham.
One night, while meandering about after a few too many drinks, something happens to Gil.
At precisely midnight, a 1920s style car full of folk dressed likewise stops beside him. The passengers insist Gil come with them; and so he does, as they go on to a party for Jean Cocteau. Cocteau was one of the leading lights of the French Arts, a multi-talented man who could write, paint, compose, sculpt but most of all — collaborate. His era was the 1920s.
Gil has been transported back in time to his “Golden Age”. After midnight he parties with F. Scott (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (Alison Pill) Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) and Cole Porter (Yves Heck) and drinks with Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) and Luis Buñuel (Adrien de Van).
During the day he’s stuck with the inane consumerism of Inez and her family, while the audience notices that Inez and Paul are spending a lot of time together. During the night Gil lives out his dreams.
I remember when I first saw this film. A certain young lady was keen, and a group was got together. I knew nothing about it. I thought it might be some talky Americans in Paris thing.
As the film began, my fears seemed confirmed. The writing was wooden and the characterisation cardboard. I recall thinking: “Wow. I know Allen’s getting old, but this is ridiculous.”
Then the vintage car arrived. The dialogue sparkled. The characters were colourful and human. A plot appeared where one had been missing. It was a delight and a hoot. So much so I saw it a few times in succession. The fact that the young lady wanted to see it again had nothing to do with my decision, I swear.
At first it seemed that the reason for the shift was to emphasise that the 1920s truly was a “Golden Age”. Paul dismisses the notion throughout and rubbishes it, and he certainly ain’t the hero. Gil believes in it so strongly, and the film seems to show it to be true.
It wasn’t. As the movie nears the end, the present scenes are just as brilliant. The characters haven’t changed, but Gil has recognised that being in a “Golden Age” has more to do with attitude and ideals than time periods.
He craves “authenticity”, not wealth. Tellingly, he has no ill feelings towards Inez or her family at the end. They’re just not compatible. There’s no reason for bitterness when there’s so much beauty to be thankful for.
Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).