Midnight in Paris: The Whiny Writer

Full disclosure: I don’t belong to the film elite, the people whose opinions move and shake the film industry. I am also not someone who is compelled, either through scholastic training or peer pressure, to mold my opinions in accordance with those of the film elite. In short, I like what I like; I hate what I hate. I don’t care how many Oscars and “Oscar nods” a movie receives.

In light of the fact that Midnight in Paris won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and received nominations for Best Motion Picture of the Year (wow), Best Achievement in Directing (hmm), and Best Achievement in Art Direction (Sure, this. It was a gorgeous movie), I still wasn’t impressed. The film was not memorable for me. It did not stimulate me past the outermost layer of my skin’s skin. In other words, it was very pleasant, just not impressive.

I’ll start with what I did like. I liked the movie as a love letter to Paris. There were beautiful shots of Paris in the opening scene, and throughout the film. I liked the funny dialog, which, of course, is synonymous with Woody Allen movies. I could run naked through his dialog. I also always enjoy how people are gently ridiculed in Woody Allen movies; but it never feels mean-spirited. There is a lot of whining in Allen’s films, usually by the main character – Owen Wilson in this case, instead of Woody Allen himself – but I tend to forgive the whining because it’s funny.

I liked the cardboard stereotypes of the fiancée, Inez, and her parents, not because they felt original, but because, by using exaggeration, the characters illustrated a typical problem in relationships. The couple, Gil and Inez, love each other (or, at least, they are attracted to each other), but they really have nothing in common, do not respect each other, and envision completely different futures for themselves. Inez’s parents are living manifestations of a future Gil is desperately trying to avoid. Gil’s attempts to interest Inez in his dreams are just as futile as her attempts to squash them.  Despite the humor in this, it’s pretty realistic. Sometimes two people just really don’t want the same things. In that case, the kindest thing to do is to let your loved one go his own way. For a while, this means allowing Gil to explore his fantasy of the Roaring’ Twenties.

I very much loved the characters of the 1920’s. Although they also seemed like stereotypes of themselves, they were delightful – especially Hemingway. Hemingway was masculine and resolute, unlike Gil. Kathy Bates’ character, Gertrude Stein, was the only woman in the film that interested me. Adriana, the alluring French muse, pretty as she was, did not hold my attention. However, she seemed like the perfect person to project one’s unfulfilled fantasies on. So, in that sense, she was perfect.

Now that I’ve hailed the film as basically pleasant, I’d like to try to articulate why the film left me flat and uninspired. It wasn’t anything major – it was several small things that added up. Just like with a brief and uninspiring relationship – it’s not terrible, there are just several things that combine to turn you off.

First, Gil felt one-dimensional and un-nuanced to me. He was about as deep as a used tissue stuck to a wet back on a hot summer day. His grand epiphany was something the “pedantic” Paul said some ten minutes into the movie: “Nostalgia is denial. Golden Age thinking…is a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.” So, although this is hardly a revolutionary statement, we have to wait a couple more hours for Gil to reach the same conclusion (without crediting Paul, of course).

Secondly, although inspiration comes in many forms – not the least of which is where we live – it seems simple to attribute a lack of literary success to living in the wrong city. It seems just as simple as attributing magic to a certain time period, which the movie critiques. Some of the best writers live in towns I wouldn’t give two eyelashes for. If Gil has any future success in Paris, it will be because he finally stood up for his dream. It won’t be because he relocated to Paris.

Thirdly, there is a hodge-podge of annoying odds and ends that, as I said earlier, worked to leave me cold. Gil jabs his father-in-law with little political digs, but somehow the father-in-law never has any real comeback. I’m sure this feels good to write, but it’s not at all realistic or fair. All the conservatives I know are just as opinionated and bull-headed as the liberals. Also, it’s unfair and disingenuous to depict screenwriting as easy, something to look down one’s nose at (easy to say when you have money and a string of successes behind you – I’m talking to you, Woody!). This is yet another case of the grass being greener on the other side. But the character seems oblivious to it. We also never really see him writing. Gil gets his review from Gertrude Stein, goes back, and bangs out Hemingway-worthy prose the next day. This, even though all he’s done thus far are screenplays. Gil himself admits they are not the same. I know it’s a movie, but let’s not insult the craft!

Writing is not easy, though the ones who do it well make it look easy. Acting is also not easy. Most of the acting in this film was fine. I’m not sure I ever really bought Owen Wilson as a self-effacing writer-type, though. He does has a way of aping Woody Allen’s speech patterns. Nevertheless, I’m sorry to say, I still didn’t buy it; nor was I all that invested in what happened to him at the end.

But, the good news is – no one cares what I think!

Cheers and happy writing,

Raven

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