Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s prolific approach to filmmaking continues, with his second British cinema release of the year; ‘You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger’ came out in the spring covered in Allen’s standard movie DNA:  the dark secret and guilt of a lead character, the romantic shot in the rain, and the complicated lives of people of a certain age with artistic ambitions – lives which inevitably get messier during the course of the film.

While it was a pleasant enough viewing, as even the most ordinary of Woody Allen films are, it was, in truth, an average film; and while an ordinary Woody Allen film is still more enjoyable to watch than most other fare, much the same can be said of ‘Midnight in Paris’.

Only once since the turn of the century has Allen come anywhere near hitting the really great heights we know he is capable of, with ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’, a character based drama so strong that the comedy, while always present, took a back seat: its one laugh-out-loud moment didn’t come until near the end, beautifully set-up at the expense of Doug, the slightly annoying know-it-all character Allen loves creating as a fall guy.

Allen has always made it plain he prefers a more serious film, and his most significant other work from this millennium, ’Match Point’, examines both the element of luck, and an amoral attitude he explored so well in ‘Crimes and Misdemeanours’, that leaves his recent more light-hearted films, including ‘Midnight in Paris’, and last year’s popular ‘Whatever Works’, in the dust.

He of course recognises the difficulty of balancing the comedy and drama, going so far as split ‘Melinda and Melinda’ into two separate interpretations in the same film, but it is an irony that in ‘Stardust Memories’ (1980), his lead character, Sandy Bates, spoke on his behalf, to bemoan how his audiences were yearning for his older comedies, when now the reverse maybe true.

‘Midnight in Paris’ of course has laughs, not least at the expense of both, another know-it-all (this time played by Michael Sheen whose agent continues to land him very nice roles), and also at a couple of right-wing tea party members who are soon to be his in-laws. It is a nice twist on the in-law joke – Les Dawson gags could be back in fashion if Sarah Palin was the stooge.

But the comedy is not in same baseball park to Allen’s slapstick heyday; the style of the film more resembles the escapism of ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’, but this time with the protagonist, played by Owen Wilson, travelling back in time while on vacation in Paris.

Of course what Wilson’s character is really getting away from is an unsatisfactory lifestyle, to a romanticised notion of golden age. And the film spells out in a slightly heavy-handed way the message that the grass isn’t always greener, and great periods are cyclical. It is enjoyable though, with Wilson’s Gil in the Allen mode, who easily wins the support of the audience in trying to have little fun while time-travelling.

Meanwhile Woody gets to drops names like a war-monger drops bombs; and as well as having fun with great artists he loved from the 1920’s, he also gets to use a new location as a central character. Manhattan was the major player in his films for years until his recent forays in Europe where both Gaudi and Norman Foster could have received cast credits. So a backdrop of postcard pictures from Paris was guaranteed from the man who developed a character in ‘Match Point’ (played by Scarlett Johansson) who had a daily commute home from work that involved a Black Cab.

Easy on the eye and ear, intelligent and humorous, ‘Midnight in Paris’ is a decent enough film. But due to a wonderful back catalogue, Woody has set the bar of hope and expectation very high whenever another of his new films drops of his impressive production line.

MG

With echoes of Glory from American Cinema to Bruce Springsteen, and full of the flavour of Escape European Travel brings, The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is available  from Amazon and Smashwords. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.