Nostalgia at Midnight

Movie: Midnight in Paris (2011)

With the Oscars over, I thought it high time to actually watch some of the winners, and Midnight in Paris, an ode to nostalgia by Woody Allen, is first up. I believe it won Best Screenplay, which I can imagine it deserved. As for Best Picture, I’m surprised it was nominated, but why don’t I get back to you once I’ve seen them all, just to be sure.

Midnight in Paris tells the story of Gil, a screen-play writer turned novelist, who is in love with Paris, and especially the Paris of the 1920s. His fiance is less enthusiastic, and as he wanders the streets of the romance capital alone, he gets hailed by an old automobile and taken away on a midnight romp filled with famous artists of his beloved era. He manages to recreate the trick the next night, and finds himself less and less sure if he ever wants to return.

The film is definitely a love letter to Paris: the scenery, the music, the people, the parties and the midnight walks – it all genuinely feels like you’ve time traveled. At first I thought our guide wouldn’t be up to the task: This is the first time I’ve seen Owen Wilson, who plays Gil, in anything serious. He hasn’t changed his tone or rhythm at all for this film, and I think thanks to Woody Allen’s script, he doesn’t really need to. He is the tourist who is as awkward and American as any of us would feel if we had been picked up instead. At times I cringed and wished he could speak with the same elegance and wit as the artists who surrounded him, but he is not there to be charming. And I guess that’s what makes him exactly that.

In a way, the film feels like it’s telling me to love the past, despite its warnings about the perpetuity of nostalgia. I think the one thing we love more about idealizing dead famous people, is getting to know how human and flawed they were. Hemingway and Fitzgerald don’t come across as flawed, however, just delightfully scripted. But, as mentioned, the film does try to get in a little message about not getting lost in the past, though I do wish it had left out the last bit of moralizing, as I think we could have inferred that message without having Gil monologue his realization. At the same time, it does fit his character perfectly, so I couldn’t be too annoyed at him.

As for the other actors, their star power, both from their characters and the actors  themselves, enhanced the tourist effect. I especially enjoyed Hemingway (Corey Stoll). Every time he started speaking there was a second or two of laughter, mostly due to modern cynicism I suspect, but then, slowly, you were drawn into his mode of speaking, and by the end you were as wide-eyed as Gil, dreaming of a time when you now firmly believe all people spoke like that.

So, I guess it’s somewhere between blind nostalgia and living in the moment? Maybe the film isn’t trying to remind us of the power of nostalgia at all, but instead just wants us to appreciate all times and all the magical people that have existed. One thing is for certain: in Paris, you can always find it, whatever “it” is.

Dice roll: 5

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