Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is sufficiently bad that it zips past the word "crap" and goes straight to "steaming pile of shit." In its desire to succinctly describe the predominant problems facing the world today, it divides us into two distinct tribes: fabulously-wealthy conflicted artists, and even richer but un-fun Republicans.
Hmm. Which side should we choose?
Now, at this point I realized that everybody not wearing an ascot should probably run screaming for the OFF button, but I decided I'd keep an open mind. If I'd shut off every film when it started irritating me I wouldn't know who Al Pacino is.
As "Gil," Owen Wilson plays Woody Allen to the point of mimicry. Every time he gets near a bedroom you think he'll suddenly spout, "Is sex dirty? Only if you do it right!" Gil is a fantastically successful screenwriter who Hollywood just adores, but he longs to be a serious novelist. The problem is, he doesn't know if his book is any good. He says it's about something called a "nostalgia shop," which should send up red flags with viewers. I mean, if Allen doesn't know you find old crap in antique shops, maybe he should leave the astute depictions of contemporary life to, say, Paris Hilton.
Gil's fiancée Inez, played by some chick who's obviously learned acting from reruns of Three's Company, is a total caricature. She hates Paris in the rain, long walks on the beach, baskets full of puppies. You expect her to set a bum alight and then complain that she simply detests sitting in front of the fire. Naturally, she thinks Gil is crazy to consider cutting off the Hollywood gravy train.
Stop me if this rings a bell.
Now, I've got two problems with this setup. (1) Drama is supposed to have high stakes. If Gil fails as a serious writer, what's the result? He's doomed to living in a Malibu mansion with $20,000 ottomans and Fresh Direct delivering Moët every eighteen minutes? I couldn't give a fuck about a dude who slits his wrists with a Fabergé letter opener. And (2) there's nobody to identify with. We try to feel sorry for Gil, relentlessly criticized by the shallow Inez, but clearly he's an idiot or the words "HEY, DUDE, YOU KNOW YOU TWO AIN'T MARRIED!" would have, at some point, popped up in his wracked brain.
While Inez is shopping for puppy daggers, Gil takes a long walk. A vintage Rolls pulls up next to him, and the occupants -- all in tuxedos or flapper attire -- implore him to get in. He does. Next stop is a party where the hosts introduce themselves as F. SCOTT and ZELDA FITZGERALD.
GIL: You're . . . who? That's . . . crazy. Isn't this 2011 anymore? I swear, I'm going insane. I'M NUTS! WHAT'S FUCKING HAPPENING!!!
F. SCOTT: I say, I like this chap! What say we split this boring joint and go see JOSEPHINE BAKER?
They go to a nightclub where nobody notices Owen's suit, shoes, and shag haircut are from eighty years in the future.
F. SCOTT: Isn't JOSEPHINE BAKER an amazing talent? My friend ERNEST HEMINGWAY has a terrific crush on her. (PAUSE.) Oh look -- here he comes now!
GIL: WHAAA??? HEMINGWAY??? THIS IS PSYCHOTIC! THIS IS CRAZIER THAN ANYTHING I WROTE IN MY BOOK!!!
HEMINGWAY: You wrote a book? Gosh, old chap, I'd love to read it, because I've got so much spare time in between winning Nobel prizes and bullfighting. As you must know, though, we artists are incredibly passionate. If I don't like your book I'll push you in front of a speeding cab, and if I like it I'll stab you to death, then say I wrote the damn thing myself. (PAUSE.) Let's go see somebody who can judge your novel fairly: my friend GERTRUDE STEIN.
Naturally PICASSO is at Gertrude's place. In fact, I'm thinking everybody short of BODECIA THE WARRIOR QUEEN is going to turn up in her parlor. Visions of a gingham-aproned ALICE B. TOKLAS appear before me, though, doing bong hits with the Surfer From the Future, and something snapped.
Really, a movie where the central dilemma is making money vs. making art? I felt like Gil: Did I somehow travel back in time to 1962? Was a suspendered mime going to dance while hippies sang about freedom? Instead of being a egocentric moron welcomed into the Bloomsbury Group, though, I was being spoon-fed pretentious pabulum by a pandering Woody Allen.
Roughly half an hour in, I shut the thing off.
I tried. I really did. I would have kept watching if I'd thought there was hope for our side -- you know, poor people who hate overprivileged idiots who somehow think they have actual problems -- but the odds weren't good.
Because if any of those fabulous celebs had told Woody's stand-in to shut the fuck up and go away, why would he have made the film?
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