Tzivi reviews Midnight in Paris

MIdnight in Paris

Yesterday Woody Allen's latest film, Midnight in Paris, received four Golden Globe nominations (Best Comedy/Musical; Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical, Best Director, and Best Screenplay). It has a 93% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and everyone I know who saw it last summer loved it. Midnight in Paris arrives on DVD next Tuesday (12/20/11), just in time for Chanukah. So even if you've already seen it, you can soon return again and again to "the City of Light" at home.

Owen Wilson stars as Hollywood screenwriter "Gil Pender." Gil and his finance "Inez" (Rachel McAdams) have come to Paris with her parents "John" (Kurt Fuller) and "Helen" (Mimi Kennedy) because John has business there. But John (a proud member of the Tea Party) doesn't want to deal with anyone French on his off-hours, so he's brought everyone along to ensure a homey atmosphere come dinnertime.

During the day (while John is presumably working), Gil and Inez wander about, sometimes sightseeing and sometimes shopping, but as soon as it starts raining, Inez and Helen hop into a cab, leaving Gil to stroll the wet streets alone. And right on cue, Nat King Cole starts singing:

"I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.
I love Paris every moment,
Every moment of the year."

Gil decides that fate, not John, has brought him to Paris, and rather than return to California, he should stay and become a real writer instead of a hack. Using his unfinished novel as an excuse, Gil skips out on social commitments so he can "work."

Alone on a picturesque street corner when the clock strikes midnight, Gil is magically transported back to the 1920s, finding himself in the company of cultural luminaries like "Salvador Dali" (Adrian Brody), "Ernest Hemingway" (Corey Stoll), "Gertrude Stein" (Kathy Bates), not to mention a gorgeous dish named "Adriana" (Marion Cotillard). Night after night Gil returns to the Roaring 20s until Inez and her parents give up on him. They leave; he stays.

It's not that I don't understand the appeal. Watching Midnight in Paris is the ultimate staycation. But this sugar-loaded holiday treat has a few worms, and I wouldn't be me ('the kvetch who dissed Paris') if I didn't point them out.

First there's "the Jewish problem." After years of playing variations of himself on screen, Woody Allen (now age 76) has retired from acting and now works primarily behind-the-scenes. But don't be fooled. Gil may look like an aging California surfer-dude, but he sounds just like a classic Woody character (think "Alvy Singer" in Annie Hall and "Isaac Davis" in Manhattan), with the same hyper-verbal, run-on sentences punctuated by self-deprecating stutters. Furthermore Inez and her parents are also played by non-Jewish actors, and yet their behavior is stereotypical: Inez is a Jewish American princess and Helen is a Yenta.

And this brings up "the Woman problem." In my recent review of Adam Sandler's new film Jack and Jill (in which I commend Sandler for addressing negative images of Jewish women in film even though I can't quite embrace "Jill" as a character), I trace the problem back to Woody Allen:

"Allen made his definitive turn away from Jewish women in Annie Hall by explicitly contrasting Diane Keaton's "Annie" (a shiksa with very straight hair and very long legs) with rejected Jewish wives played by Jewish actresses Carol Kane and Janet Margolin."

To be honest, I didn't see anything wrong with this at the time, and Annie Hall continues to be one of my all-time favorite films. However since winning the Oscar for Annie Hall in 1978, Allen has defined professional success as the ability to bed shiksas on screen either personally or by proxy (as Wilson does in Midnight in Paris). 

This became a problem right after Annie Hall when Allen released Manhattan in 1979. In Manhattan the primary love object isn't just a shiksa but 17-year old high school student named "Tracy" (played by Mariel Hemingway). I vividly remember how offended I was at the time, and frankly I've never quite trusted Allen since. This was way before anyone paid attention to his personal life, and yet, the handwriting was clearly on the wall.

These memories of Manhattan no doubt colored the way I saw Midnight in Paris in the theatre last summer, but after yesterday's Golden Globe announcement, I went back and watched it again. While several critics have compared the opening montages, no one that I know of has compared on the final scenes.

After Inez leaves Paris, is Gil destined to wander alone in a fantasy world? Not to worry! Allen has included regular appearances by a gamine named "Gabrielle" (Léa Seydoux).

Readers: compare these two photos and judge for yourself.


Photo Credit for Midnight in Paris: Roger Arpajou © 2011 Mediapro, Versátil Cinema & Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. (Note that I converted Arpajou's photo into black & white to make the two photos easier to compare. The photo from Manhattan is widely available on the internet.)

For more on Manhattan , visit my Blog.

After 35 years in Chicago, Jan Lisa Huttner (Tzivi) now lives in Brooklyn. She recently released a new eBook, " Tevye's Daughters: No Laughing Matter ."... Read More

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