Newest Review: ... feel. This is a very atmospheric movie, its clearly very nostalgic and quite sentimental. Its pretty slow in pace and a little confus... more
La Belle Paris
Midnight in Paris(DVD)
Member Name: isobelj
Midnight in Paris(DVD)
Advantages: Charming, funny and intelligent
Disadvantages: Main characters, not a lot happens
Gil (Owen Wilson) is a writer who has sold his soul to Hollywood and wants to turn his hand to a literary novel. His fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) seems to control every aspect of his life, but if it were up to him they would move to Paris after they were married. When they tag along on Inez's parents business trip to that lovely city, cracks start to show in their relationship. They bump into Inez's friends, quite ignorant, pedantic people who clearly look down on Gil, and Inez sides with them every time. When he tells them of his dream - he wishes he had been born in Paris, in the 1920s - they laugh at his naïve idealism: they deal only in the harsh present of business deals and golf games.
One night, when Gil wants some time alone, he leaves the group and wanders the streets of Paris alone. At midnight, a vintage style car approaches, and a group of people inside it urge him to join them. He decides to hop in, and is taken away to a different world: that of artistic society in the 1920s.
I didn't really feel like characterisation was a big strength in this film. The main character, Gil, is a complete pushover and he has absolutely no will of his own. He seems to drift through his life, accepting whatever comes next and rarely taking action. When Gil is thrust into another world each night, he meets it all with such calmness and acceptance that it really did stretch my credulity. His air of faint surprise fits the situation so poorly that it almost spoilt the film for me. Instead of questioning his own sanity and tearing his hair out wondering if he'll ever get to the present day, he just drifts along.
His relationship with Inez is a total mystery, as we barely see a single scene of them being loving and supportive towards each other. Instead, Inez is constantly picking at him or telling him what to do, and he just takes it. I know there are many couples who have that kind of dynamic, but with an underlying love and chemistry that these two just don't have. Inez's parents dislike Gil, her friends dislike Gil and it's really not clear why. Although he is portrayed as someone with little ambition or discipline, he is a successful scriptwriter - he's not exactly a layabout or bum, taking advantage of her.
On the other hand, though, whilst Gil is off on his adventures, he does of course come across a love interest or two. He seems to be a bit of a flirt, or at least very familiar with the women he meets, and it all seemed a bit inappropriate when he was still engaged to Inez. Fair enough, their relationship might have been a bit loveless, and as he was in a different time period you can see why he might think he was on to a bit of a free ticket, but there are a few scenes where he is hatching very real plots to seduce women whilst in the same room as his fiancée. I suppose that fits quite well with his aimless character, but it put me off a bit and make Gil a bit less likeable.
The most interesting characters are the ones Gil meets on his journey. Ever wished you could meet Hemingway? Gertrude Stein? Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald? Hemingway is played fantastically, and he has some fabulously deadpan lines that made me laugh out loud. His delivery is perfect and he is just as you might imagine Hemingway to be. He's intense and uncompromising, and next to Wilson's wimpy Gil, Corey Stoll just shines and practically leaps off the screen. My eyes were glued to him every time he was on the screen. Meanwhile Zelda Fitzgerald is instantly likeable and hilariously fun. Whilst Gil is wandering around in awe of his heroes and trying to take everything in, she is cruelly practical and easily bored. These characters provided a splash of fun in what could otherwise have been a fairly straight, dull affair.
Finally, Marion Cotillard is perfect as Adriana, the flirtatious, impulsive society girl that catches Gil's eye. She is flirtatious, intriguing and mysterious, and you can see why Gil is drawn to her.
The musical accompaniment is a bit of a mix. Half of the songs are your typical, sax heavy, French style tunes that conjure up images of a dark jazz bar, thick with the smoke of Gauloises, and the other half are classic 1920s tunes from the era's greats such as Cole Porter. Whilst this could be seen as a really safe choice, I did think it added to what the film was trying to achieve, and really contributed to the setting and the mood overall.
Normally I wouldn't even mention the costumes in a film, but I think one of the really fantastic things about the 20s is the fashion, and the costume department really knocked this one out of the park! The costumes are just gorgeous; all sequins and headbands and feathers; I loved seeing all the amazing outfits. Meanwhile, back in the present day, Inez has a wardrobe full of holiday style clothes that we could never wear in boring old England.
You can probably tell by that short description that this is a film that demands a slight suspension of belief. You can't ask many questions, because things just start falling apart! There's no effort to explain any of the mechanics of what's happening, or to give a reason for it, either. You really just have to go along with the ride, which is something some viewers might find quite difficult.
The story on the whole is quite engaging. It's not exactly an exciting rush to a desperately tense climax, but I did find myself wondering how everything was going to pan out. The fun is mainly in the environment: the parties and coffee shops and bars that Gil goes to are packed with the cream of French society in the 1920s, and he meets many of his literary and artistic heroes. From the very opening scenes - lingering shots of Paris in the summer, including all the most famous landmarks, tree lined avenues, and lazy sun-drenched views of the Seine - it is clear that this is a celebration of Paris, both now and as it was. Everything here is idealistic and seen through the rosiest of lenses; there is none of the grit or realism exposed in films such as Irreversible or La Haine.
As Gil continues his adventures, he learns that 'la belle epoque' is different for everyone. Everyone thinks the grass is greener and everyone harks back to a golden age just outside of their reach. I didn't think this was a groundbreaking observation, to be honest, and the point is made rather clumsily. But, the charm of this film kind of lets it get away with a lot.
~~Who would enjoy this film?~~
I think this would appeal to both men and women - my husband and I both enjoyed it. It's happily lacking in any slapstick or gross-out humour that seems to feature in so many romcoms, and instead depends on gentle, intelligent jokes. Because of all the references to that particular period in Paris' history, I'm sure there were a lot of jokes that went completely over my head, but I still enjoyed it. As I've said, Hemingway is hilarious and there's a particularly funny scene where Gil tries to explain his predicament to a group of Surrealist painters, with little success. If, though, you happen to be quite well versed in this era, then I'm sure you'd love this film even more. (Unless, of course, there are glaring historical inaccuracies that I didn't spot, in which case you could conceivably hate it! I haven't heard anything about such inaccuracies being present, though.)
I'm not sure you could really describe this as a masterpiece. I think my husband summed it up nicely when I told him it had won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars and he laughed and said 'It wasn't very original.' It's really just a mild romantic comedy, but in a gorgeous, charming setting that somehow forces you to love it. It's utterly lacking in realism and probably a bit too cheesy for some to swallow, but it's a relatively amusing, intelligent film that has good appeal to both men and women.
I'm giving this four stars. It's not the best film I've ever seen but it was gently funny, intelligent and served to temporarily satisfy my cravings to go back to Paris! Recommended.
Summary: Style over substance, but in a really good way