Saturday, February 25, 2012

A brief conversation with myself about Midnight in Paris


"Did you enjoy it?"

"Yes. It was very entertaining. You?"

"Dreadful."

"You can't be serious. Why?"

"For one thing, Hemingway was a complete cut-out, a cliche of a man ripped straight from an encyclopedia of famous quotations and combined with a few brief biographical details. The whole era Allen conjured up smacked of forgery."

"Well, you're right. It wasn't a documentary."

"That's not what I meant..."

"I know. But you're missing the point. Hemingway was a cliche because he was cut-out. Not from a book of quotations but from Owen Wilson's character's imagination. He was Wilson's idea of what Hemingway was like, which was based on the popular perception -- the stereotype."

"One can make that argument, sure, but then everything in the film that takes place in the past is instantly beyond criticism. One can simply respond with, "But that's how Owen Wilson imagined it!" And besides, I reject your premise. We're not supposed to assume that what takes place in 1920s Paris is part of his imagination. It's all supposed to be real, which is why the private investigator -- the one who's trailing him throughout -- gets trapped in time at the end."

"Perhaps."

"No, definitely. And the whole conceit of the film is cliche in its execution. When Owen Wilson takes his fiancée out to have an excursion in the magic pumpkin, I said to myself, I sure hope the vehicle shows up since it's completely standard for it not to in this situation. But of course it didn't. The whole scene was stale from the outset."

"So what if he was using a well worn cliche? That particular device has been around forever. He was just using it as a playful gimmick."

"So what? The entire movie boils down to a cliche: the grass is always greener, nostalgia is naive because people's imagined idea of the past is always tainted by the rosy tint of retrospect, etc. It's bad enough for the film to boil itself down to this platitude, but then the ending..."

"You're the one boiling the film down to that! The film..."

"No, let me finish. The final moments contradict Allen's very own message. Isn't the ending a kind of nostalgia of its own? A movie-tinted view of relationships which suggests that finding someone who enjoys the same small things you do -- walking in Paris at night in the rain, for example -- somehow equates to love and compatibility? That's quite silly, of course. And it turns Owen Wilson's character into a type, with his fiancée and her family set as his type's opposite. The entire world is therefore divided into 'people who enjoy Paris in the rain' and 'people who don't', and the film seems to suggest that, as long as the two groups avoid romantic contact with one another, happiness awaits."

"There's more to it than that. The types are indicative of subtler things. Those who like the small, simple pleasures of life, for example, and those who don't."

"I hardly see much difference. And even if there was one the latter category of people is associated with shallow, cynical, self absorbed Republicans, which is, once again, reductive. Not to mention an easy target for Allen's audience."

"Well, as far as the contradiction goes, I'm not sure what you said even matters because the film openly sides with Wilson's character."

"Of course it matters. And besides, that only proves my point. Obviously the film has no idea what it's trying to say! It's just feeble entertainment for people who like to feel smart by laughing at the all the in-jokes. And, what's worse, the in-jokes are actually quite depressing to anyone who knows more than the most superficial things about Gertrude Stein's coterie, to say nothing of the Belle Epoque!"

"Wow. I wish you could hear what you sound like to me right now... Anyway, do you think Wilson's character would have had the same reaction to the Parisian woman he met -- the one he walks off with in the end -- had she been average looking, or less?"

"Doubtful."

"OK. Then that means the film can't be as reductive as you say."

"No, it means that it might even be more reductive, just in a different way. Plus, his wife was attractive too, so I don't think there's any reason to factor in their appearances. What differentiates them is the type of person they're considered to be in the film's schema."

"I suppose."

"As far as movies that actually have something to say about relationships go, Certified Copy is a hundred times better than Midnight in Paris. Same goes for Andrew Haigh's Weekend."

"But Midnight in Paris isn't really a film about relationships."

"What's it about?"

[pause]

"Wasn't Adrian Brody a riot as Salvador Dali?"


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Top: Certified Copy (Kiarostami, 2010); Bottom: Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011)

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