Two weeks ago I was the fifth wheel at a little couples party where the night culminated with a little movie. Apparently my brother in law Kevin is a man of many hidden interests and had read the reviews of likely Oscar nominees. His suggestion for the night was Woody Allen's 'Midnight in Paris,' which I am sure Allen would be furious to have called a 'little movie,' but surely fits the bill.
Despite the rather unlikely source for the selection, this little movie was indeed perfect for a night. It's a great date flick or low-key way to spend an evening at home, but color me shocked that it was nominated for the three big Oscars for Picture, Directing and Screenplay.
Written and directed by Woody Allen, 'Midnight in Paris' stars Owen Wilson as Gil Pender. Pender is an American writer in Paris struggling in his career and his relationship with fiancee Inez, played by Rachel McAdams. Wilson seems an odd choice as a traditional Woody Allen protagonist and you can sometimes hear Allen's nasally New York twang in the lines rather than Wilson's laid-back twang. Ultimately the role works for him, it's the audience that needs to get used to him in the role rather than Wilson growing into it.
The story revolves around Gil Pender traveling back in time as he wanders the streets of Paris each night at midnight. He is transported back to his favorite period, the Roaring '20s, where he meets an array of literary and social luminaries including Hemingway, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Picasso. Every night Pender is taken on another adventure, meeting more of the celebrities of the day and eventually falling in love with Picasso's mistress Adriana.
Their kiss transports them back to Adriana's favorite time, the Belle Epoque of the 1890's, where they meet Degas and other artists who feel the Renaissance was the height of civilization. Pender reluctantly returns to the future, leaving time travel behind and deciding it is time to live life in the the present.
While shot on location in Paris, the film lacks some visual panache as the photography features lots of golds and reds, and the effect, to me, somewhat limited the beauty of the setting. The dizzying array of characters from the past was also a challenge, as I sometimes felt like this was a quicky survey of literature and art history.
The length of the film was also a bit of a challenge. At only 94 minutes, the last 20 minutes or so felt rushed. The beginning of the movie and the relationship with his in-laws is far better developed than the conclusion and several other characters with far more ultimate significance to the film. I am not sure if Allen got bored with the script, ran out of ideas for the time travel sequences, or simply decided that the movie was good enough.
And it is good enough as a nice bit of light entertainment, a fun diversion from work and life and reality TV. But it's the second of the nominated films I watched and was left thinking that the nomination was a gift rather than a serious award.