I’ll Take Paris
I know. This is not a movie review blog and I’m certainly no movie reviewer, but I have to tell you about Woody Allen’s new romantic comedy, “Midnight in Paris,” which opens this week. Get a babysitter and go see it. Even if you’re not an English major, you can enjoy the fun. I’ll admit, though, as an English major, I loved Woody Allen’s entertaining take on the artistic icons who gathered in Paris in the 1920s.
Owen Wilson plays Gil, a hack Hollywood screenwriter who is revising a serious novel. Wilson is perfect as the guileless, literary star-struck protagonist. Gil is in Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her boorish parents, who are stereotypical materialistic, ugly Americans. To them, Paris is a place to see historic landmarks and to buy things. To Gil, Paris is alive with dreamy possibility, and he longs to move there to finish his novel.
Walking the streets of Paris alone one night, Gil sits down on some steps, the clock strikes midnight, a car stops and its inhabitants urge him inside. The party-goers in the car happen to be Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. By some twist of fate, Gil finds himself in 1920s Paris at an elegant party with the Fitzgeralds where Cole Porter is singing “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)” at the piano.
Gil can’t believe his good fortune. And it gets better!
Scott Fitzgerald introduces Gil to Hemingway, whose periodic speech is a parody of his novels. Hemingway tells Gil that he’ll have his editor Gertrude Stein (played fabulously by Kathy Bates) read a few chapters of Gil’s book and give him some advice. Gil is beside himself with joy. At Gertrude Stein’s apartment (where, of course, her lover Alice B. Toklas opens the door), Gil meets Picasso and Picasso’s current mistress, Adriana (Marion Cotillard). Gil is immediately infatuated.
The rest of the movie is populated with literary and artistic icons from the Jazz Age of Paris – Josephine Baker, Djuna Barnes, Salvador Dali, T.S. Eliot, Luis Bunuel and Man Ray. (I especially loved the scene with Gil, Dali, Bunuel and Man Ray.)
At one point, Gil tells T.S. Eliot that Californians measure out their lives in cocaine spoons, an allusion, of course, to “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.” There are many such small literary, film or art allusions that are helpful to know, but I don’t think you have to know them to enjoy the movie. For example, if you are familiar with a Hemingway Hero and the style of his writing, then you’ll enjoy the way Woody Allen writes Hemingway's dialogue. The Shakespeare & Company bookstore makes a brief appearance in the film, which was a bookstore owned by Sylvia Beach and frequented by Hemingway and other Americans in Paris.
Regardless, “Midnight in Paris” reminds us that every age has its artistic luminaries, and that we do tend to romanticize other times and places. What is reality and what is an illusion? In the end, perhaps it doesn’t matter. Art is the thing that is most alive and most memorable in every culture and in every past.