Oscar Profile: Midnight in Paris

by Tom Ingram

Genre Comedy; Romance
People Woody Allen d.w.; Owen Wilson; Rachel McAdams; Kathy Bates; Michael Sheen; Adrien Brody; Corey Stoll
/10 7

A self-confessed “Hollywood hack” takes a trip to Paris, hoping to find inspiration for his novel. He stumbles drunkenly into a car one evening and is transported back in time to the 1920s, where he meets his literary idols, learns a stock lesson about nostalgia, and becomes disillusioned with his fiancee.

Synchronicity surrounds me. Midnight in Paris has a running loop of Django Reinhardt-style music throughout. James Joyce is prominently mentioned, and Adrien Brody has a cameo as Salvador Dali. Hugo, which dealt with similar subject matter to The Artist, has three guest stars playing Joyce, Reinhardt, and Dali. Something weird is going on with this year’s nominees, and I don’t like it.

Midnight in Paris is a fun movie. It has wit, a sense of wonder, the occasional good line. But it’s not well executed, and it feels like it might have been likeable in a different world with a different cast and crew. Something about Woody Allen grates on me. He can’t seem to make a character who isn’t aggressively unpleasant. This is fine in a movie like Bullets Over Broadway, where it was sort of the point that everyone involved was stupid, amoral, or both. We’re actually supposed to like Owen Wilson’s character, though Allen doesn’t make it easy.

For that matter, why pick him of all people for the lead role? Owen Wilson is too nice, too good-looking and smiley to believably play a struggling writer—at least, one who’s not totally drugged up. I’d buy him as a con man out for revenge in 1930s Chicago, but not in this role. You need someone like pre-National Treasure Nicolas Cage for that. Rachel McAdams is pretty much a nonentity as Wilson’s vapid fiancee. Kurt Fuller as McAdams’s dad is a “parody” of an American conservative, which is about as funny as it sounds, i.e., not very.

The 1920s Parisian intellectuals are a much more lively bunch. Corey Stoll is perfect as Ernest Hemingway, and no one could be better than Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein. Wilson’s character talking with a group of Surrealists led by Dali is one of the movies funniest moments. At times it starts to feel like it’s getting too name-droppy, but it’s easy to forgive because the 1920s Paris scenes are far more interesting than what’s going on in the present.

If nothing else, Midnight in Paris is a very good-looking film. Modern Paris is shown in lively colours, and the 20s scenes have a vibrancy all their own. The costumes and sets are beautiful. All it needed was a new director, cast, and script, and they might have had something.

Up for:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (Allen)
  • Best Original Screenplay (Allen)
  • Best Art Direction