Thursday, June 9, 2011

Film Review | Midnight in Paris

Night at the Musée

By Thomas Delapa

In the opening minutes of Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen presents a loving—yet languid—montage of postcard-pretty sights from the City of Light. Mon dieu, we get it, Woody: Paris is a beautiful backdrop whatever time of day it is.

In the latest stop in Allen’s expatriate cinematic tour after London and Barcelona (If it’s Tuesday, this must be France…), the serio-comic auteur toasts Paris, home to all things cultured, sophisticated and artistic. After Manhattan, Paris is Allen’s self-proclaimed spiritual home, and now he’s turned that moveable feast into a movie fantasy, if a half-baked one.

No, you’re not dreaming. In Owen Wilson, Allen makes a baffling choice, casting the Texas-born comedy star as his newest cinematic alter ego. Wilson is Gil, a successful Hollywood screenwriter on vacation abroad with his vapid fiancée (Rachel McAdams). A closet Proust, Gil yearns for “Paris in the twenties in the rain,” and before you can say “slushy plot device” three times, he’s magically whisked to that literary and artistic golden age. Each night at the stroke of 12, he’s picked up by an antique coupe to begin his rendezvous with a gallery of greats, who all treat him like a long-lost comrade.

By day, Gil contends with an assortment of ugly, boorish Americans, whether his girlfriend’s shopaholic parents or a pompous professor (Michael Sheen) who’s an expert on everything, even correcting a museum tour guide (French first lady Carla Bruni). What Allen expediently forgets is that the faux casting of Wilson is almost as crass as his bluntly caricatured Yanks. Every present-day American in the film is a French-fried twit, excepting, of course Allen’s starry-eyed stand-in. Acting as supporting props to the Paris sights is a handful of chic French beauties who ooze charm, culture and ooh-la-la.

Meanwhile, back in the Jazz Age past, Gil hobnobs with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali. As a swarthy, pre-Papa Hemingway, only Corey Stoll shows off some grace under pressure, punctuating his impersonation with droll and, yes, Hemingwayesque bravado. The rest of Allen’s cameos enter and exit like walk-ons from a wax museum.

While neatly dressed up with cigarette holders and Cole Porter music, Midnight in Paris clocks in as a high-toned Night at the Museum, with Hemingway taking Teddy Roosevelt’s place in the semi-living tableaux. Wilson—who appeared in the latter—has a penchant for light, slacker comedy, but his nasal voice and boyishly gee-whiz persona are wearing old, and he’s fast becoming part of a lost generation of 40-something Hollywood actors.

Wilson is out of step with the Oscar-winning Marion Cotillard, indifferently cast as a Picasso groupie who herself is nostalgic for the belle époque of Toulouse-Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge. Gil can insist all he wants that “Prufrock is my mantra” to a visiting T.S. Eliot; when it comes to a fitting movie setting, Wilson may slip right into Shanghai Noon, but in Midnight in Paris, he’s way out of time.


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