I happen to have my own artistic and literary heroes the same as in Woody Allen’s latest 2011 romantic comedy Midnight in Paris, so I loved the film. Brunel, Dali, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso… Is there room to fit more, yes, Rodin, Monet, TS Elliot… A fitting comparison for the viewing experience would be an accidental find of an antique shop full of all the items you fantasized about from a previous golden era; and then some that you didn’t know you would fall for, nonetheless fall for them with wide eyes, a pumping heart, and a few giggles. The cultural references may be highbrow, but Allen redeemed himself by making the quirky one liners humorous, if you get his references that it. Woody Allen’s movie is rarely for everyone. I’d think any attempt on the whimsical and the fantastic with a narrow set of references would not be an easy path for universal enjoyment. Kids in a candy store can pass for the universal; but baseball cards of all MVPs of “world championship” MLB would not – as strange as this may sound to Americans. I happen to love Paris, so listening to a love song written by Allen set in night clubs on Left Bank, slow walks around the White Church or in drizzle on the New Bridge, or panorama view from the center of the city worked just fine.
It has been a tiring discussion that Allen is no Kubrick. He does repeat himself a lot – Purple Rose of Cairo, Everybody Says I Love You, Bullets over Broadway, Vicky Christina Barcelona, to name just a few; though new elements do occur such as time travel within a literary and philosophical context that serves to the main plot and themes of the movie. As much as I love all the cultural references, it does feel like indulgence at times, partially because they are simply piled up or laid one next to each other like library reference cards, or reading notes in a forgotten drawer. Let’s try a more engaging metaphor, an avocado salad with froi gras, toro, uni, grilled salmon skin, cold smoked sable, colored with saffron and topped with condensed teriyaki sauce, all serve on top of a East Coast oyster in a half shell. Yes, you indulgent food lovers, you know what I’m talking about. Some Iron Chef would try and get away with it for novelty and excess in Las Vegas, but even the most indulgent Roman during a food orgy probably would wish that they come as six separate servings. Plus, we would indulge ourselves to expect more sophistication from Allen at this point in his long accomplished career.
I’d see potential in a rough cut, if this part of the film – some three quarters of the whole movie – was a research first draft of compilation of a roster of famous actors doing auditions for their respective art and literature giants from a century ago. For that reason, their acting also suffers.
The baseball cards reference is fitting here since almost all characters are cartonized. While so many references jammed through the mid-night transcendence of the almost funny Owen Wilson – partially the charm of the movie – you may argue that it is hard to develop any of these characters. You would be right, underdeveloped as characters, their lines are often forced.