Every year another Woody Allen movie appears and critics fall over themselves proclaiming it the greatest thing he’s done since something or another. Usually, they do a bit better than break even, although the 2011 “Midnight in Paris” is the highest-grossing Allen movie ever.
What it has going for it (for those of us who do not consider Allen profound) is some good actors and Paris in three epochs, though all shot in a golden glow that is not the Paris light (it’s much closer to Vienna’s light). The dissatisfied with the success he has Woody Allen character was played by Owen Wilson, sometimes sounding like Allen, especially when sputtering or trying to express wonderment.
The fantasy Allen provides himself three beautiful women (Rachel McAdams as the fiancee, Marion Cottilard his golden age consort, and Léa Seydoux)and cliched caricatures of Americans in Paris in the 1920s (plus Degas and Gaugin joining Toulouse-Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge in time travel within time travel and van Gogh’s “Starry Night” in the Parisian sky behind Owen Wilson on the poster/DVD box cover).
I find Owen Wilson annoying even when not channeling Woody Allen, but I can’t imagine anyone thinking he has chemistry with any of the three belles with whom he keeps company or would be taken seriously even by the Hemingway caricature Corey Stoll enacts or the maternal Gertrude Stein Kathy Bates does.
Woody’s double suggests that the know-it-all with the fake hedges played by Michael Sheen is a pseudo-intellectual. I’d suggest that the pseudo-intellectual trafficking in cliches of 1920s (, 1890s, 2010) Paris is M. Allen. (Sheen’s Paul is an insufferable pedant, though, and very close to narcissistic intellectuals in many Woody Allen movies.)
I’m mystified that his screenplay in particular was nominated for an Oscar: what isn’t golden age cliche is an Allen double doubting his talents and a woman who stirs his loins but not his soul (and/or is two-timing the nebbish…). Though I think the palette is wrong, I could have understood Darius Khoji’s cinematography netting a nomination (“Evita” and “Se7en” did that for him).
Allen does not do commentary tracks (the products are pretentious enough already!). The DVD includes less than 5 minutes of Cannes press conference and a trailer. Allen does say the saturated yellow is what he asked for.
Though the fantasizing was not about some elusive “golden age,” I thought that Allen’s 1985 “Purple Rose of Cairo” was a far more affecting look at longing for legends. Not having Owen Wilson around then made it easier…