There's a lot of crap talked about Woody Allen. Critics talk about his 'Early funny ones', his 'shaky recent out put' and his 'European period'. When reviewing a Woody Allen film apparently you have to either critique his 40+ years of work in one big impossible whole, line him up against other film makers, attempt to pigeon hole him or write him off completely. It's true that in the following review I do fall victim to some of those cliches because it's almost impossible not to but what I mean and what I actually attempt to do is, his films are hardly ever reviewed individually for what they are and this is either because the critic has nothing to say about the film they've actually just seen or they are too busy longing for a bygone time that they think no longer exists, which, funnily enough is rather apt in the case of Midnight in Paris.
We'll never know if this film was an attempt to make an early funny one with hints of dramedy stuff like Annie Hall and the lush period visuals of Bullets over Broadway whilst all the time secretly satirising and mocking the critics for not being able to live in the present. If it is then Woody may indeed be the genius he so frequently claims that he's not, if it isn't then it's a simple and charming film about the artistic and maybe just human condition that nobody wants to live in the present and every artist secretly yearns for rain drizzled Parisian streets.
Whatever it is or was meant to be, it has succeeded in being, just in box office terms the most successful Woody Allen movie of all time. I saw it a couple of weeks into its run and it is still playing at my local multiplex now, over a month later and when I went to see Horrible Bosses the other night there were still crowds of people exiting the Woody film and not just the bearded, corduroy wearing sociology professor you might expect but a broad cross section of the public. At one point the same theatre had dedicated 2 screens to it!
Just to put this in contrast when I went to see Whatever Works, which had the pull of being the first film Woody set in New York in 5 years, starring Larry David who is a highly successful writer and star now and the one actor everyone thought should've been working with Woody all along and was, for my money, the first actually really funny comedy he'd done since Deconstructing Harry, I managed to find one art house cinema that was screening it for maybe two weeks if that and the showing I was in I think the audience was about 3 people, maybe one old Dutch woman with a poodle as well, I can't be sure.
It doesn't really make any sense who goes to see what and why but it's just nice to know that, in this world of Transformers, vomiting bridesmaids and the excitement some people seemed to get from almost seeing Jennifer Aniston's nipple, a Woody Allen film not even starring his most starry of casts and set in a country most Americans (and to be fair most Brits also) despise, full of in jokes and references about authors, artists and musicians from over 70 years ago can be so, financially at least, successful.
So, what is the film actually like? I hear you cry. Well, it's not bad. I don't think it's a classic to be honest but it's not bad.
The cinematography is, as always, excellent and both modern Paris and the Paris of the past look stunningly beautiful.
The script is, if I am honest, a little contrived, obvious and devoid of subtlety. It's very funny, has a great little point to make and it makes it understandably and simply but there isn't the quick fire one liners and the dialogue that lets the human drama unfold and play out realistically. Everything is sign posted with a sledge hammer.
Owen Wilson is likable enough and doesn't attempt to get his Texas nasality around too much of a Woody impersonation, like a lot of other leading men have done in his position, he can, however, be a tad one-note in the part though and his character is not exactly convincingly drawn. He spends a lot of the film just doing enthusiasm or wide eyed wonder and not particularly convincing at that, I do not see prose that would impress Gertrude Stein coming out of that man.
Still he has more to work with than Rachel MacAdams who is not exactly given much to do and it does border almost on insulting how thinly written, flat-out annoying, shrill and stereotypical her character is, for the man who has always been applauded for writing female characters so well I was actually a bit surprised at the sitcom nature of the 'nagging fiance who has nothing in common with her hubby to be' character she was weakly forced to inhabit.
The only other person with a significant lead is Marion Cortillard who almost pulls a Penelope Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona here by being the token foreign actress who swoops in and shows up everyone else, unfortunately she doesn't get a grand amount of screen time in which to swoop.
Everyone else is a cameo and from Kurt Fuller as the hilariously republican soon-to-be father-in-law right down to the scene-everyone-is-talking-about featuring Adrian Brody as a batty, rhinoceros obsessed Salvador Dali they are all pretty splendid although I honestly felt each character could've had a lot more jokes attached to them.
There was an article recently about whether Woody Allen was a genius, where he sat in the long line of cinema auteurs like his beloved Bergman. Well Midnight in Paris suffers from the problem a lot of his work suffers from and what, I think, stops him earning the 'genius' tag completely and that is laziness.
Now you may think it's odd I say laziness as he is 76 and has a schedule where he still writes and directs one movie a year every year and has done for at least three and a half decades but what I mean is it feels like he's either not giving himself the time, or really can't be bothered to fully form an idea anymore or to maybe do a few re-writes or polishes of his scripts.
This maybe because he doesn't need to.
He gets enviable casts, support from his peers, has a dedicated fan base around the world, doesn't do atrociously with the critics and like he has said, the financing for his next film is already in place while he's working on the prior and so he doesn't really have to have standards or it maybe because he can't really keep the pace that he used to when it comes to churning out movies.
I understand that you'd have to be a fool to expect all of them to be great works of art and for all of them to compare with the earlier, more critically acclaimed part of his career but while I, personally, love that I don't have to wait long to see another Woody movie maybe he should slow down, make one movie every other year or something and take his time, primarily, re-writing the script.
Now this is not because I believe they would then be all classics, he would probably have about the same hit rate as he has now but because I believe that when a potential classic came along, like Midnight in Paris, it would be better, it would be polished, characters rough edges smoothed down a bit, jokes added and it may have had more thought put into it. His films are slowly resembling demo versions of films that could be.
These are all minor niggles though, Midnight in Paris was enjoyable, watchable, looked beautiful, had some very funny scenes and good, strong performances from most of the cast. It beat the fucking bloomers from his last effort 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' or 'You will Wish You Had Never Been Born' as I called it, which was, quite possibly in the running for worst Woody Allen movie of ALL time. I couldn't get through much more than half of it and I sat through all of Cassandra's Dream and, apart from the lead's accents, rather enjoyed it.
To stop and play typical-critic for a moment, out of Woody's recent "European period" I actually rank Midnight in Paris equal with Scoop as my two favourites. This may surprise some but I thought the two which were the best received, Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona were absolutely terrible, except for Penelope Cruz's excellent turn in the latter.
In the end, whatever their genre, location or cast, Woody Allen still achieves more in a half-arsed annual film than most film makers achieve their entire career and who am I kidding, I love my yearly Woody movie.
7 out of 10 and there were surprisingly few baguettes
Points from The Wife 8 out of 10.