Best Picture Odyssey: “Midnight in Paris”

Midnight in Paris is a movie that is so charming that I can’t nitpick it. The film seduced me in such a way that I find it impossible to write down its flaws, even though they are plain as day. Damn you, Midnight in Paris. Damn you for making me love you. Really, it’s a movie tailor-made for my sensibilities. I’m not a Woody Allen “fan”, per se, but I like some of his work, and I really like the standard character that inhabits so many of his films. However, I tend to feel like he uses it as a crutch too often, and that’s sort of the case here. But I’ll give him this – casting Owen Wilson in that role was a pretty interesting choice. Wilson actually does a pretty good job, too, even if it is mostly a Woody Allen impression.

I didn’t take much away from this film, and that’s my first problem with it. I never got the sense that there was a reason that Allen was telling me this story. At least, not until the very end, when the moral of the picture comes crashing down with a force so thundrous that the Earth’s rotation was most likely thrown off as a result. It’s a shame, because the theme of this movie is pretty original and interesting. It’s doesn’t seem to be one of the many stock morals that people seem to use in every other movie that comes out today. The film’s originality is staggering, especially when you consider that it is currently part of a set of nine films that are mostly very conventional in both narrative style and thematic material. I appreciate Midnight in Paris‘s dedication to not being cliche or conventional.

The thing that I loved the most about this film by far was the appearances of famous writers of the era. They were an odd sort of celebrity cameo. Midnight in Paris walks an interesting line when it comes to these people’s place in the film. It’s never difficult to figure out who people are, but the film never goes out of its way to explain these people to you. However — and this is maybe its best feature — it doesn’t make you feel stupid for not knowing who people are. I’ll admit to not knowing who Cole Porter was when his music started playing, but Owen Wilson’s reaction to seeing him in the flesh told me everything important that I needed to know. It’s a success of the screenplay that this works. On the other hand, one of the script’s biggest failures also stems from these characters. They don’t come across as any more than caricatures of the real people. Ernest Hemingway is portrayed as a larger-than-life alcoholic (accurate), but every word out of his mouth is something about bravery or honor. There’s nothing more to him than that. He’s just a vessel for whatever the protagonist needs to hear at that moment. And some characters, such as a detective who is sent to tail Owen Wilson, have plots which literally never go anywhere. This script really needed a few more revisions.

Another problem comes with the film’s message. In a neat scene near the end of the film, Owen Wilson “figures it out”, and the message comes out. It’s a bit heavy-handed, but plot-wise I liked how it played out. I thought, “Oh, that’s a nice climax. Now the movie’s over, right?” And then something surprising happened. The movie kept going. And going. And going. It’s probably the only similarity that this movie has to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. For some reason, Allen felt the need to do two unnecessary things. First, he wrapped up the subplot about Rachel McAdams’s character (I didn’t like her performance, by the way, but it may have just been that her character was unlikeable). This scene goes nowhere and doesn’t thematically have anything to do with the rest of the film. And then he makes his most egregious mistake. The final scene of this movie has Owen Wilson’s character blatantly disregarding the message that he spent the whole movie learning. If you’ve seen the film, perhaps you know what I’m getting at, but suffice to say that it renders the rest of the story pointless.

But despite it all, despite all of the obvious flaws, I can’t help enjoying this film. I think it’s because it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s so light-hearted, so fluffed up with joy, that I can’t hate on it. Everyone has one person in their lives who, despite all of their character flaws, is so nice that you just can’t hate them. That’s what Midnight in Paris is like for me. It’s so inoffensive that its flaws don’t matter. That seems like a backhanded compliment, but hey, that’s the best that this film is gonna get.

And that concludes the Best Picture Odyssey! Thank you all very much for reading and enjoying these reviews. In the days leading up to the Oscars, I’ll rank the nominees, best to worst, and make my final predictions about the winners. I’ll keep you posted. Adios! 

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Josh Rosenfield

Josh Rosenfield is a Film Media major at the University of Rhode Island. He has been writing Popcorn Culture since 2010.

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