(I used to be a big Woody Allen fan. I was trying to see all his films, and I think I got about halfway there. Then about ten years ago I just lost interest. It wasn't the Soon-Yi Previn business. And it wasn't any particular film that turned me off; I just got tired of him, I guess. That, and Mrs. Sgt T really doesn't like his films, so we almost never watched them together.
We went to see his new one, Midnight in Paris, last night with a friend. The friend, too, isn't a real Woody Allen fan, but is professionally interested in the whole '20s Paris milieu that the film recreates; the Mrs. and I are good little intellectuals, and are at least passingly familiar with the figures that populate it.
Which is to say that we weren't going to see it because it's a Woody Allen film, but perhaps in spite of it being one. I was, though, quite curious to see what he was up to these days, because I know I've missed a few quite acclaimed films from him.
It was at first comforting to find that nothing has really changed. Same typeface for the credits, same Sidney Bechet-heavy soundtrack, same loving picture-postcard establishing shots of a Great City [now it's Paris, because Allen's in his Americans-don't-appreciate-me-but-Europeans-do phase]. Same trick of having his leading man do his best Woody Allen impression [I think I was the only person in the world who thought that was genius and not schtick when he had Kenneth Branagh do it in Celebrity - but with Owen Wilson it's clearly schtick, and that means it might have been that with Branagh, too].
Some of the less salubrious things have remained unchanged, too, and I surprised myself by being bothered by them. He still insists on showing his purportedly lovably leading man being tormented by a lover who is nothing but a castrating mother-figure who doesn't get him and insists that he grow up. At 75, Allen's still obsessed with this? At 75, he still thinks about women that way? Good God.
And that same autodidact's hostility toward accredited academics. I thought that was hilarious and dead-on when he did it with Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall, but again: at 75, he still feels the need to caricature as pompous people who have decided to make a career out of studying and teaching things that Allen himself clearly loves and makes far more money out of addressing than they ever will? Like, what does Allen have to fear from any professor anywhere?
But in spite of all that, I enjoyed every frame of the film, and it almost convinces me I need to finish my old project of seeing all of his films. Because)
The scenes of this movie that take the protagonist (splrlrt) back to 1920s Paris are some of the most delightful I've seen on screen in years. We were snorting with laughter watching Adrian Brody do Dali, and Corey Stoll do Hemingway. The evocations of the period were perfect, and the realizations of all these larger-than-life figures were amazing. Sure they were flattering to the audience who knows who these people were (there were a couple I hadn't heard of), but even with your guard up you don't really feel like you're being pandered to, because Allen himself so clearly loves this milieu.
And it's that that fuels the movie, at least in these scenes. The comic timing and writing is marvelous - a reminder of Allen's true gifts, is I guess what I'm supposed to write at this point. But it's really his insider's understanding of the power of nostalgia that this movie captures - and nostalgia isn't really a strong enough word for it. Like R. Crumb, Allen has built an entire worldview out of the sense that the present day world is not his home. Those of us who share that feeling can sense in Allen a guy who gets it. What does 2011 have to offer that can compete with a Sidney Bechet solo, a Fitzgerald sentence, Dali's mustache?
That's why I don't buy the ending of this movie. Gil doesn't wise up and choose the present day world anymore than Marky Mark chooses Estella Warren over Helena B-C in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes. Odd comparison, I know, but in both cases you have directors ending their movies by basically lying through their teeth.