Arts & Events

Film Review:Midnight in Paris Strikes Gold
(But Woody’s Script Doesn’t Pan Out)

Review by Gar Smith
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 08:34:00 PM

Like many devotees, I trekked to Woody Allen's latest celebration of Nebbish Cinema (actually, I caught it at a press screening). And I have to report that the predictable parade of our favorite antic-auteur’s resume of neurotic mannerisms (draped, this time, on the capably slack shoulders of Allen-stand-in Owen Wilson) left me feeling ambivalent (when I wasn’t laughing, of course). Laughter is contagious. So, too, is neurosis. Let me kvetch. 

Although I enjoyed this time-travel frolic (call it "Zelig on the Seine"), Midnight in Paris succeeds largely by relying on the Reward of Recognition Trick. (It’s the same thing that happens at an oldies concert when a crooner hits the first few notes and the audience hoots and shrieks because it recognizes a favorite song that's about to be re-hashed). Need a laugh? Trot out Degas, Lautrec or Buñuel and listen to the audience titter. This is the kind of stunt you can only pull once but Woody does (give him credit) pull it off beautifully. 

It must have been a kick for a kaboodle of actors to step into the shoes and slippers of legends like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Picasso and Hemingway. And the actors do not disappoint. One standout among many: Adrien Brody’s turn as Salvado Dali is a dilly. 

However! There were some continuity errors and “plot holes” that gnawed at me. And they were especially bothersome since the audience was being asked to look at Paris through the eyes of a self-confessed “hack” screenwriter. Let me belabor just three examples. (I’m assuming, for the sake of this post-mortem, that you’ve already seen the film. If not: Spoiler Alert.) 

(1) In his haste to make his post-midnight rendezvous and consummate a time-travel tryst, Gil (our zero-hero) steals his fiancé's earrings to use as a gift for Adriana, the girl of his 1920s dreams. This sets up an amusing scene where Gil has to explain (a) what he's doing rushing out the door smelling of cologne, with (b) a gift box in his hand. Much anxious hilarity ensues. Unfortunately, it is all undone by the very next scene. Allen takes us along as Gil visits a Paris jewelry shop to buy a new pair of ear-gear to present to Adriana. 

SO! If Gil had time to go shopping before the Chimes of Midnight... why did he risk clipping Inez' earrings?

(2) In the set-up scene where (First Femme) Carla Bruni is translating Adriana's French memoire on a park bench, Gil hears that his evening with Adriana is preordained. Adriana, writing in the Twenties, records a dream in which she meets and American named Gil who girts her with a pair of earrings and they hit the sheets. This, naturally, sets up the previous scene where Gil is motivated to douse himself with cologne and steal the family jewels. 

SO!If it the Gil-Adriana meeting was all preordained by Adriana's novel, why didn’t Woody’s script “go by the book”? Instead of hitting the sack, Adriana invites Gil to catch a horse-drawn cart back to the Belle Epoch. Contrary to expectations, no coupling, no consummation. I felt cheated but, oddly enough, Gil (still presumably reeking of an excess of cologne) didn't seem to notice or mind. (I ran this by Mick LaSalle, the Chronicle’s prescient film critic who advised me not to fret since “that was a dream.”) 

(3) Finally, thanks to the earnest intercession of Hemingway and Stein, Gil gets a chance to rewrite his novel. Allen shows him working in bed with pages of the manuscript propped up on his knees. Later (actually, make that “earlier,” since we’re now back in the 1920s) Allen shows Gil delivering his massive rewrite to Gertrude Stein. 

SO! Gil's a modern guy, but we never see him hunkered over a laptop (or even a manual typewriter) re-working that honkin' manuscript. Are we to assume he wrote the original manuscript in longhand and simply rewrote all the changes in script? 

There are other plot-holes for a neurotic to stumble into but I'll leave it at that. 

On second thought, there is one last thing. Can we talk about Owen Wilson's nose? Let’s face up to it. It's hard to accept Wilson as a new-and-different character when he always shows up with that same distracting twist in his schnoz. There’s no question Wilson can play a generic slacker but Woody Allen is a character, and that requires some dramatic distance. (And it doesn't help that Wilson shows up in his trademark surfer-dude Bieber-coif.) 

Anyway, thanks for the laughs, Woody, and hats off to the great cast of expat celebs — Dali was a delight; Picasso a p---k, Hemingway a hoot — but I would have liked to have seen more of Josephine Baker. 

Who knows, maybe there will be a sequel where Woody’s doppleganger-of-the-day will romance Josephine. I can only dream.