Quite honestly, this is the sort of movie which I should have absolutely loved. From the location to the concept to the incredible cast which was assembled here, Midnight in Paris seemed like a film that I would wholeheartedly be rooting for come the Academy Awards. And to be fair, I liked a lot of things about this movie. There's just one big problem:
Woody. Fucking. Allen.
I know, I know. I should expect this after he makes ten thousand movies which are variations on the same theme (nobody likes Woody Allen and he can't figure out why), I shouldn't have been surprised by Midnight in Paris. But you see, I thought it was going to be like Purple Rose of Cairo, where the main character isn't Woody Allen in disguise and there's actually an interesting concept.
But nope. Poor Owen Wilson was stuck channelling the loserish Woody Allen Proxy (I can't remember his name: let's call him WAP), who is surrounded by people who don't understand him, and is unhappy in the skin that he's in (as well as the time period and the line of work). I spent the first twenty minutes watching this movie and wondering if I was actually supposed to sympathise with someone who is just as dislikeable and whiny as the people he professes to hate.
And he stays that way for the whole movie. There is no real transformation or lessons learnt on the part of the WAP. Oh yeah, he realises that he doesn't belong in the twenties, but he's still not disabused of the notion that he needs to stay in Paris to find himself.
Honestly, this is one of the most shallow reasons for immigrating to a country. Ever. What really irks me is that when privileged manchildren from Idaho move to Tokyo to become a mangaka or whatever they expect will happen in that magical world of opportunity, people mostly acknowledge it for the adolescent kind of exoticism that it is. But when WAP decides to move to another country with no clear goals, that's somehow seen as a profound and brave choice.
It's not, because like those aspiring mangakas from Peoria, WAP can go back any time he wants. If he finds that he dislikes the fact that he can't get writer's work in a nation whose language he can't speak or write in, for instance, and has to do actual work instead to keep the rent in his overpriced flat. Or, if money isn't an issue (and for WAP, it probably isn't), he'd still find himself surrounded by the same people that he hates; artistic types who talk out of their asses about everything in the country, embittered types who hate everything about France and constantly talk about how much better things are in the States. He would not be surrounded by French people who immediately adore everything about him, because that's not how things work in the real world. He would probably have the most contact with expats who are just like him, and therefore hateful.
People who emigrate out of necessity know that the process and result is no cakewalk. It's only privileged and mostly Western malcontents who think that having 'a fresh start' in another country is an effortless and painless aspect, like planning a vacation. In fact, they seem to see immigration as an extended vacation.
And for many, it is.
The 'Golden-Age Principle' which is constantly expounded upon in Midnight In Paris is something that works just as well for immigration and moving. WAP learns that he belongs in a certain time but can't figure out that a permanent habitation of a country that he has no ties to without a fixed plan is a bad idea.
The other thing I didn't like about Midnight in Paris is the treatment of the historical figures. For some reason, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dalí, and Ernest Hemingway all adore the whiny guy who is constantly crashing their parties. Dalí even develops a huge crush on WAP and writes about his attraction to him, which is revealed and expounded upon in the best scenes of the movie.
I would not be so pissed off about this if it weren't for the fact that Woody Allen assembled a great cast for these great figures, and then sort of hand-waved them aside so he could focus more on WAP's bland first-world-problems.
Kathy Bates was awesome as Gertrude Stein! I would have loved more scenes where she was critiquing Picasso's work, or hitting on Marion Cotillard's character. Hell, a scene or two where she's interacting with someone who isn't WAP, like Hemingway (purportedly a close confidant in this movie) or hell, I don't know, Alice B. Toklas? No kidding, Alice appears for two seconds. Any interaction with these two would have guaranteed Midnight in Paris's passing the all-important Bechdel Test.
Corey Stoll was fantastic as Ernest Hemingway. Could have done with a lot more of him, period. The same goes for Alison Pill's Zelda Fitzgerald, who is downright incandescent (I just wanted to see her on Valium, the pill of the future. Come on...) Adrian Brody was Dalí. For five seconds. I would have killed to see the date with him that WAP was getting ready for. Hell, I would have killed to see a whole Dalí biopic starring Brody instead of Robert Pattinson.
In fact, know that I think about it, Midnight in Paris would have been a much better movie if one just cut out WAP and the 21rst century and made it an ensemble piece starring great actors as the great personalities they played. That would have been an amazing film worthy of the acclaim it's currently receiving in Hollywood. Considering how much I adore the fantasy/sci-fi genre when it's done in arthouse films, that admission takes a great effort on my part. But honestly, when the 21rst century is only there to produce a WAP and the tea partiers and evil close-minded women who are constantly cramping his style, then it really has no reason being in a movie.
Instead, I watched a very-well photographed diversion that doesn't stand up to too much thinking, and feels very much the same as a lot of other Woody Allen movies.