Tuesday, October 11, 2011

692 - Midnight in Paris review

Leave it to audiences to reward this mediocre late Woody Allen film with generous box office receipts, enough that it's thoughtlessly celebrated as his highest grossing film. Of course that's balderdash spouted by PR hacks and media buffoons unaware of the concept of inflation, but this unfortunately means cinephiles can expect "Midnight in Paris" to make consistent appearances in list of his notable filmography.

Allen's stock shots of Paris didn't offend my sensibilities as it did some critics (they are perfectly pleasant if cliched establishing shots), though two deficiencies on Woody's part were glaring obvious. One isn't so much his pandering cheap shots at conservatives as it is his Republican characters, square businessmen that don't even rise to the level of caricature. Certainly, it's possible that one such as Allen could spend his entire life in place like New York City, Los Angeles, London, and Paris without ever having to suffer an entire conversation with a right-of-center individual, though when one fancies themselves a worldly intellectual, such a gap in life experience presents a problem when bringing such characters to screen. These moments are brief and infrequent, though made even more embarrassing as a result.

The other is the treatment of his surrogate, here played with effective affability by Owen Wilson, a screenwriter who dreams of transitioning into serious literature. There's much talk about how Wilson's character pens shallow but high-grossing studio pictures, with apparent carte blanche to work in Hollywood as he pleases. Allen, of course, has enjoyed something akin to this for decades, though his works are prestigious and always filmable on a modest budget. The consistent dissonance between Allen's view of things and reality should be beneath a filmmaker of his esteem.

Here, Allen takes a look at nostalgia and the tendency to perpetually romanticize the past as artistically and spiritually (in a secular way) superior to the present. He's not inherently wrong, though he commits a major sin by neglecting (or refusing) to acknowledge that not only are some eras better than others, but that artistic success is as much a "right place, right time," affair than it is one of transcendent talent. Eras create great artists and great artists define the eras, though to Allen different periods just appear to be meandering celebrations laden with the staples of high school and college English and art classes (at least before a devotion to "multiculturalism" began to erode their prevalence in the curriculum). It's disappointing to see one of the hardest working filmmakers alive put out something so profoundly lazy.

2 out of 5

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