It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a Woody Allen film. I grew up enjoying his early silly comedies and while Allen grew as a filmmaker and went on to make films aimed at a more sophisticated palate, I remained in my juvenile state of mind for some time and so we went our separate ways, so to speak.
But I recently watched his latest release Midnight in Paris and thoroughly enjoyed it. It stars Owen Wilson as a successful Hollywood screenwriter who sees himself as a hack. He wants to be a serious novelist and yearns to have lived in Paris in the 1920s, which he sees as the pinnacle of artistic genius in so many genres, where F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, Cole Porter, and others resided periodically. Visiting the city with his fiancée and her parents, he finds himself mysteriously transported at midnight to that very time and place and experiences what it is like to hang out with all the people he idolizes.
Time travel is always a tricky issue in films. Allen treats it lightly, not worrying too much about how it happens or how to resolve it, which is what causes a lot of such films to be so dissatisfying. Here it is just a convenient device to make a point and that’s fine.
Wilson shows a real flair for sophisticated light comedy and plays the role that Allen used to play when he was younger and indeed seems to channel some of Allen’s mannerisms and attitude and speech without making it seem too much like copying.
Allen enjoys making fun of pedants, those pompous people who enjoy flaunting their erudite knowledge and try to browbeat others that they are right even when they are wrong. He did so in the famous Marshall McLuhan scene in his 1977 film Annie Hall.
Such a pedantic character appears here in an extended form as a former professor of his fiancée, as you can see in the trailer.
One thing that Allen realizes is that otherwise good films, especially comedies, are ruined by stretching it out too long when the optimal time is 90 minutes. The only exception to this rule are if you have both a really powerful and complex dramatic story that demands such a length and an exceptional director who can pull it off, such as a David Lean or a Stanley Kubrick.