Dismiss an elderly Woody Allen at your peril, that’s the lesson I learned after going to see Midnight in Paris last weekend. I purchased my ticket rather sheepishly as I wasn’t holding out high hopes for the film after the disastrously misjudged ‘Vicky Christina Barcelona’, and the out of touch (to the point of cringeyness) ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger’, but mere moments into the film my negative suspicions had already been proven wrong.
The film begins with a long montage of shots featuring Parisian streets and tourist attractions, depicted in a very realistic and uncompromising manner that, if it were any other city, would be unflattering, but in the case of Paris it just stressed further the monumental and sincere beauty of the city. A connection is immediately established between the audience and protagonist as we hear his voice declare an adoration of Paris through the title sequence, and so we begin our journey of empathy and hope for this romantic character whose dreams and potential go unrealised by his despairingly unimaginative wife-to-be.
Apart from the stunning and highly entertaining performances of Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and a menagerie of other well known stars (including a cameo from Adrien Brody who plays Salvador Dali in possibly my favourite scene of the film, an absolutely hilarious sequence in which the godfathers of Surrealist cinema and art sit together pondering our protagonists relationship problems, among other things!) I think that what really made this film stand out for me was its conceit, something so ingrained in the psyche of every artistic person but that I’ve never seen explored in film before; the belief that you were born too late, that you would be happier or understood more completely had you lived in another, seemingly more romantic era.
Allen does what he does best here, and takes a common human misconception that has been allowed to go unquestioned in modern cinema and dissects it to reveal the humour and divine ridiculousness of such a thought. By showing us that even if we could visit a time that holds irresistible charm in our minds we would soon long for another time, because it is the feeling of unfilled hopes in the present that makes us want for a different world, he instils a deep sense of relief in the audience – Relief that we are not alone in this longing, and relief that the notion has finally made its way into the mainstream so that we can look it square in the face and realise that if we followed our dreams more completely right now that our place in time would be unimportant, that we cannot continue to escape to these fantasies whenever the idea of making our own mark in time becomes too intimidating.
I laughed hysterically throughout the film, but more importantly I left feeling that a great weight had been lifted from my mind, that it was ok to embrace the seemingly inartistic present and just be happy to be an individual in this great mess of time that we have arranged into eras and grandiose timeframes. Woody Allen has regained his place in many hearts as the angel that knows just what to say when you’re feeling lost with this genuinely intelligent, totally unpretentious, and incredibly imaginative comedy.
“I see….. A Rhinoceros” ;)