For the past few months, people have been telling me to see Midnight in Paris, often on the basis that it's a film designed for an English grad student audience. Well, I saw it, and... eh. The plot, for those unfamiliar, is that Owen Wilson plays a movie script writer who dreams of writing the great novel, and is particularly enamored with the literary scene of early 20th century Paris. He wanders the streets at night, and a car pulls up and takes him back to that time period. He meets the literary figures he idolizes, and he learns a valuable lesson about living in one's own time. And the whole thing left me a little cold. Maybe because it was so targeted for the English crowd--it felt like it was insisting that I should like it, just based on the subject matter. Or maybe it's because I don't really care for modernism; you'd have to travel to the 18th century to interest me.
The plot, as you may gather, is pretty simple and the message rather basic, so that also failed to enthrall. The characters themselves varied a bit. The contemporary, present-day characters are all pretty one-note: rich fiancee, overbearing father-in-law-to-be, pretentious snob acquaintance. It's the lit characters who are the real draw. Some are great--I loved the Gertrude Stein, and there was a bit of nuance to the Scott F. Fitzgerald. Some are caricatures, like the Zelda Fitzgerald. Hemingway is a scene-stealing performance, but it's really a little one-note once you get past the novelty of someone asking if you've ever shot a lion. And speaking of caricatures, Owen Wilson's character is basically... well, Woody Allen. It's his verbal tics, his predilections. Hell, it doesn't take much squinting at the character description--Hollywood screenwriter who dreams of writing real, meaningful literature--to argue that is Woody Allen. Allen's voice is a little to obvious in the film for me to get really into characters. As a result, it's a film that feels more like an intellectual argument than a story. And that's fine--as long as the argument is interesting. This isn't, really. "Don't get lost in the past" isn't a message that takes a lot of sophistication to grasp, or convey. But at least Getrude Stein was nice, and the love for the city and setting of Paris really comes through.
Don't forget Adrien Brody! I saw this on Netflix a few weeks ago and the mixed emotions came from the fact that people who are not lit majors or studied modern lit at some point in time would not understand the themes, and that it's not nice to make a elitist film when art (if this was meant to be art) should be more accessible.
One gem not many people have mentioned is "Alatriste" -- Spanish movie with English subtitles starring Viggo Mortensen set in early 17th century Spain.
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