29 Days of Romance, Review #10: Midnight in Paris (2011)

29 Days of Romance, Review #10: Midnight in Paris (2011)
Midnight in Paris poster
IMDb

Directed by: Woody Allen. Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard. Runtime: 1h 36 min. Released: May 20, 2011.

I have some Woody Allen films on my watchlist and I thought I’d start with Midnight in Paris because it seems the most interesting. This is only my second Woody Allen film after watching the mediocre, but well-acted Irrational Man in theatres in 2014. My expectations were higher for Midnight in Paris because it’s well-reviewed, but apparently that doesn’t matter for me when it comes to my enjoyment.

Gil (Owen Wilson), an American screenwriter obsessed with Paris and nostalgia, is on vacation with his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family (Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy) and is trying to write his first novel. For inspiration, he takes walks and is transported to 1920’s Paris every night at midnight.

There’s a charm and whimsy to Midnight, a lot of which is thanks to the 1920’s inspired score (there are no ‘music by’ credits on Woody Allen films for some reason, which seems weird). The concept of the film is good even if the “rules” of the time travel aren’t explained. Gil just has to go to one certain corner in Paris and hop in a car that will drive into that era. It’s not as much about the “time travel” side of it but the fact that it’s escapism to a golden age.

The film’s a love letter to the city of Paris and it’s evident Woody Allen loves the city. Owen Wilson’s performance is why I liked parts of this, but Allen inserts himself into the character a bit too much and his occasional prose would be easier to read than watch. His dialogue gives this life in the scenes of the 1920’s, which is where I found some entertainment. Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Corey Stoll as Louis Hemingway are highlights, as is Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein. The rhinoceros bit with Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí is hysterical. Allen captures the author personas and artists well even if half of what Hemingway went on about felt repetitive.

Midnight in Paris article
Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams in Midnight in Paris. (IMDb)

There are some obscure references to Parisian figures that I just didn’t know but are funny if you’re familiar with them. The writing in just sometimes not all that accessible because Allen just flexes how much he knows about the era and that gets to a point where it’s obnoxious, but Gil himself never feels obnoxious. Gil was the only character I cared for and even the literary figures became gimmicky after a couple nights. The best character is an amalgamation of Picasso’s lovers, Adriana (Marion Cotillard). She brings charm and strong chemistry with Wilson.

Rachel McAdams plays bitchy well but I hate her character. I’d assumed McAdams would be the love interest here and not the anchor holding Gil down. Kurt Fuller is solid as her father John. There’s a character here called Paul who is very obnoxious, and he’s only saved by Michael Sheen’s screen presence. He makes you want to listen even if his dialogue is dull. For the most part, the scenes in the present were insufferable for me. That’s the point because the present day is shown as pedestrian and unsatisfying, but still.

Wilson is the highlight for me as an average, rich guy who we live vicariously through as he goes back to the ‘20s. His passion for Paris is sweet – as this is a romance is man and woman, but also man and city – but it didn’t make me passionate about Paris. It just made me think it would be cool to revisit ancient Rome. I like nostalgia as much as the next guy, but the charm of this simplistic story turned to boredom quickly. It just left no impression on me and I don’t think strong dialogue and one good character is enough for a great film.

Score: 50/100

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

 

The Grand Budapest HotelReleased: March 28, 2014. Directed by: Wes Anderson. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe. Runtime: 100 min.

Wes Anderson’s films are an acquired taste. It is a taste that I am starting to like after two of his films. I think 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom is good, but boring when the laughs weren’t there. This isn’t the case with The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a consistently funny film that boasts a phenomenal ensemble cast. The film follows the adventures of a legendary concierge named Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) at a popular hotel in Eastern Europe called the Grand Budapest Hotel. It also follows closely his relationship with his lobby boy Zero (a funny Tony Revolori, making his film debut), who becomes a trusted friend. 

The comedy at hand might not work for everyone. Some of the comedy might be dry to some, but I think it’s witty. Take for instance: While this film made me laugh at least 20 times, I never once heard the woman sitting in front of me laugh. At points I was almost convinced she fell asleep – but she kept moving. I’m really not sure why she stayed the whole way if she wasn’t laughing very often. Anyway, the reason the film’s comedy works is because of the pure lunacy of everything on-screen. It’s a compelling crime caper with a lot of situational comedy.

Anderson directs the film with his signature signature, which some accuse of being just style over substance. I think the story at hand is engaging, if a bit bizarre – but that’s what is so entertaining about it. Why have a car chase when you can have a sled chase? The vastly different landscapes also make this worthwhile, as the settings are always as beautiful as the exquisite cinematography that captures it. The visual style is also great, and so is the set design. One thing I do not like about the film: A bit of an uninspired animal death to get a laugh or two. Now, this scene did make me laugh, but Anderson takes the situation too far for my tastes.

I like the narration by both Jude Law and F. Abraham Murray. Murray plays an adult Zero, who shares his and Gustave’s experiences to a Young Writer (portrayed by Law), who later writes about the man’s experiences. I like the poignancy of Zero wanting Gustave’s approval. I think they have a great chemistry together, and a realistic relationship. Gustave is a peculiar character but Ralph Fiennes brings him to life so well with a hysterical, energetic and flamboyant portrayal that is beyond charming. I think the fact that he has a palette for older women is weird – he states he’s had women older than the age of 84 – but perhaps he’s only searching for the approval of a grandmother figure; and I think it works into the story’s favour in other ways, by using it as a character device. Due to this it’s not as strange, but little oddities are part of this film’s charm. 

The chemistry shared between Saoirse Ronan (portraying Agatha, who has a “birthmark shaped like Mexico”) and Tony Revolori portraying Zero is lovely. Revolori shows promise in his first outing, and takes to the subtle humour like an expert. Willem Dafoe also has an amusing performance as a maniacal character. Adrien Brody plays his villainous character well, and Anderson makes some good musical decisions when he’s on-screen. Many of Anderson’s favourites have small roles, including Edward Norton as a main investigator. Thanks to great storytelling, and the performers’ fun performances, it will make your stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel enjoyable. I would like to check in again soon.

Score80/100