Sunday, January 15, 2012

Super Short Review: Midnight in Paris (2011)

There's so much rich, deep tv on (Netflix) right now: Sarah and I are making our way through

  • Friday Night Lights (2006-11)
  • Sons of Anarchy (2008-present)
  • Downton Abbey (2010-present)
  • Peep Show (2003-present)
  • Portlandia (2011-present)
  • The Cosby Show (1984-1992)
  • Frasier (1993-2004)
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996-2001)
But we still decided to rent a movie from our local Hastings last night. Sarah chose Woody Allen's recent Midnight in Paris, which surprised me, since she's not Jewish and not from New York.

OK, sure, that's a stereotype--there are probably people on the West Coast who also enjoy Woody Allen movies.

The movie was certainly entertaining; but does it improve on Allen's humor piece, "A Twenties Memory"? Eh, bof. Which is French for "meh."

The plot and characters of the movie are thin and uninteresting, rarely requiring more than two adjectives and a noun: the borish, conservative father-in-law(-to-be); snappish WASP fiancee; milquetoast dreamer screenwriter; the pedantic professor; etc.

There's drips and dabs from other Allen works here in the setup (the dreamer who'd rather live in another time might be named "Kugelmas"); but the heart of this movie is really in the conceit of a man who gets to travel to his Golden Age (the lost generation in the twenties) and has to figure out what that really means to him.

But for us, who aren't so engaged in the character because he's not very interesting, most of the enjoyment comes from seeing those 20s characters acting just like we knew they would: Hemingway's dialogue is flat and somehow both droning and pointed; Dali is surreal; Picasso is fiery; etc. (Which is half the pleasure of "A Twenties Memory." The other half is how Allen plays with language and expectation: "I was then working on what I felt was a major American novel but the print was too small and I couldn't get through it.")

So watching actors pretend to be famous historical figures is fun. There's a pure joy to mimicry--we like seeing things match with things that they aren't--so it's fun to watch  Loki play F. Scott Fitzgerald. But that's all it is--fun.

(And you probably need to be well read to get all the jokes, which means the movie gives us one of the worst forms of pleasure imaginable: self-satisfaction at getting the jokes.)

There's something more promising, I think, in the failure of people to live up to our expectations: so when our time traveler hero gives Bunuel the plot of The Exterminating Angel, it's funny to see Bunuel object to the nonsensical premise--"Why can't they leave?"

Summation: Light Woody, retreading some of the classic prose humor; fun to see for the in-jokes, but don't get so self-satisfied with those jokes that you take the political asides as settled.


  1. Hmmm, honestly I'm not a big fan of Woody Allen. Am I still allowed to live in NY?

  2. Well, what's your favorite Woody Allen film or story? Think carefully--you may not be able to hold a house in NY if you answer incorrectly!

    (Or, no, wait, that's wrong: everyone who loves Woody Allen lives in NY, but not everyone who lives in NY loves Woody Allen. So you're good.)

  3. Man, I really hope they don't ask me this type of thing when I go to sign our mortgage papers (which is actually tomorrow!).