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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ten Reasons Midnight in Paris Is a Dopey Mess

Posted By on Thu, Jul 7, 2011 at 7:33 AM

click to enlarge "But this Paris and this beautiful woman aren't the Paris and the beautiful woman that I want!"
  • "But this Paris and this beautiful woman aren't the Paris and the beautiful woman that I want!"

The new Woody Allen movie -- about a man who somehow finds himself in a Wikipedia entry about the 1920s, where he learns that he can only love women who love walking in rainstorms -- has won rave reviews and made more money than all previous Woody Allen movies, including the good ones.

It's also a dopey mess of threadbare plotting, disinterested characterization, dialogue and situations cribbed from earlier Allen films, and lots of scenes where poor Rachel McAdams cheeses a line reading 60 seconds into a long take, but then everybody -- from actors to director to reviewers -- decides it's easier to just pretend it didn't happen.

Yes, Corey Stoll kills as Ernest Hemingway, the Surrealists score big laughs in the film's sharpest scene, and the gorgeous 1920s setpieces are filmed with a snap and polish Allen has rarely mustered. But all that is weighed down by these unforgivables:

  • In the world of Midnight in Paris, it is a moral failing for women not to appreciate Paris as much as Woody Allen does. There, women can be joyless scolds like the one This Movie's Woody Allen Stand-In (Owen Wilson) is for some reason engaged to (Rachel McAdams, as a mean version of the underwritten character Emily Mortimer hated playing in Match Point.) Or they can be beautiful peddlers of things Allen is nostalgic for, like the antique shop saleswoman or the guide at Musée Rodin.

  • In Woody Allen's 2011, the Internet does not exist. Instead, there are those beautiful peddlers of things Woody Allen is nostalgic for, such as the museum guide whom This Movie's Woody Allen Stand-In (hereafter TMWASI) tracks down when he needs facts about Rodin's love life that he in absolutely no way possible could find someplace else.

  • After he is spirited from an idealized 1920s back to present-day Paris, TMWASI drags that scolding fiancée of his out to a street corner in the middle of the night to wait out that hoariest of scenes: a true believer trying to show a skeptic the crazy, magical thing that only he can see. Like Snuffleupagus, the 1920s fail to materialize. Is there anyone alive who didn't realize they could nip out to the restroom for this sequence?

  • The father of the scold to whom TMWASI is for some reason engaged identifies himself as a Tea Party Republican, yet in most of his scenes he is enjoying luxuriant dinners in the grandest restaurants of Paris instead of a Des Moines Shoneys.

  • Gertrude Stein had better shit to do than workshop the novels of confused lugs she has just this minute met.

  • When Gertrude Stein reads aloud the opening sentences of the novel written by TMWASI, Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and This Movie's Scarlett Johansson Stand-In (Marion Cotillard), all seem to understand exactly what TMWASI's fear that nostalgia might be rooted in "camp," an aesthetic that had not yet been identified, studied, or fretted over, and one that would certainly have elicited mockery from Hemingway.

  • Hemingway never punches TMWASI in the mouth.

  • At one point, TMWASI boxes up pearl earrings belonging to his fiancée so that he might give them to This Movie's Scarlett Johansson Stand-In. The fiancée and her parents discover him with the gift-wrapped box, which inspires bumbling and lies from TMWASI -- just the kind of farcical situation that comedies (including Love and Death, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and Small-Time Crooks) have always depended upon.

    But the real Woody Allen can't be assed to build this into anything, so his stand-in just pretends that the earrings have turned up in the bathroom, the fiancée looks suspicious, and everyone involved in the production got to knock off before dinnertime.

  • In the 1920s, the Scarlett Johansson Stand-In writes a diary detailing her affairs with Picasso, Hemingway, and TMWASI. Later, in the present, TMWASI happens upon that unpublished diary in the cheapo stall in front of a Parisian bookstore. This is stupid.

  • This 1920s Paris is like that awful parade-of-writers wallpaper in a Barnes & Noble cafe, a bunch of dim caricatures of the greats assembled so we can suck up their familiar glamour and enjoy a vague idea of them as our buddies rather than as artists whose work might challenge us.

Hey, you could do worse than following Alan Scherstuhl at @studiesincrap or the Exhibitionist Blog at @ExhibitionistSF on the Twitter thing.

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Alan Scherstuhl


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