Nostalgia is man’s inability to cope with reality: Midnight in Paris, a review

Starring Owen Wilson as Gil, this film is set in modern-day Paris as Gil and his fiancé tag along on a business trip to France with his future mother- and father-in-law. Gil is a successful script writer in Hollywood, but longs for the struggle and fulfillment of publishing his novel. Gil is also obsessed with Paris as a city, and what it must have been like, the magical and creative times, of Paris in the twenties.

After boring tourist trips, and getting a bit toasted at a wine tasting with his fiancé, in-laws, and the pedantic Paul, Gil walks around the city and ends up lost on a small alley road. As the clock strikes midnight with rhythmic chimes, a classic Duesenberg rolls up the street, stops, and the occupants beckon him to jump in. Gil, half-drunk, decides to ride along after not being allowed to decline, and is whisked away on a trip through Paris…in the 20’s.

Before Gil can wrap his head around the scenario, he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the Fitzgeralds. Sitting at the piano in the main room is none other than Cole Porter. He later sits down at a table over wine with Ernest Hemingway, who says he refuses to read Gil’s manuscript, but will put him in touch with Gertrude Stein, the only person he trusts with his writing.

By day, Gil struggles with his in-laws, his fiancé Inez (played by Rachel McAdams), and his own desires that run contrary to those of Inez. She likes that he is paid well to write scripts, and doesn’t want to move to Paris to live in an attic apartment with a skylight. Gil wants his passion, his struggle, and to give a real shot to being a truly great writer.

Gil with Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein

By night he meets Stein, Hemingway, Adriana, the Fitzgeralds, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, Degas, T.S. Eliot, and others. Every artist is cleverly and comically fleshed out. I laughed at Dali and his obsession with the Rhinoceros form. I loved Hemmingway’s drinking and his dead pan delivery of great quotes. “You want my opinion on your book? I hate it…Either it is good and I am jealous, or it is bad and I hate it anyway.” Gil rubs elbows with his idols in his romanticized era. Gil always thought he was born too late. Through his meetings with Adriana, he falls for her, and the time.

Adriana and Gil walk the streets of Paris in the 20's

In an Inception moment, on a street corner in 20’s Paris, a horse-drawn carriage arrives and they are beckoned to board. They are now taken back to Adriana’s favorite past era…1890’s Paris. It is here that Adriana wants to stay, and Gil realizes that everyone romanticizes a past time. He can’t stay with her, he wants her time, she wants this one. He can’t stay. They don’t have medicine, it is a great, but primitive time, yet these great artists in the 1890’s yearn for the Renaissance. No one is satisfied with their era. He leaves Adriana in the 1890’s and returns to his time begrudgingly.

Gil knows what he wants, what he needs out of his life, and playing the part for Inez cannot be that life. He decides to stay in Paris, breaking off the engagement, and living his life as a writer now.

Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali

Woody Allen wrote and directed Midnight in Paris. This is a fantasy of magic and nostalgia in the city of lights. Paris at midnight is magical, and the fun and imaginative wares of movie making are on display in this understated and creative film. For a writer, much like Gil, I was just elated with this film. Getting it from Netflix by mail, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to watch it once it was at my house. I’d popped it in the queue because it was Woody Allen and it was recommended 4 1/2 stars for me. I trust Netflix most of the time, and it certainly did not disappoint this time.

So many people, including myself, have a romantic ideal of an era in the bygone past. For me, it is the Sixties in the Hashbury. Beat writers like Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson. The protests, counterculture, the division, the passion, the wars, the fascinating times and writers that inspired me. It is not better than my time, but romanticized by the passage of time and the boredom that comes from living.

It might be my literary bias, but the film and the characters got to me as a viewer. It explored my obsession with times passed. It explored my desire to live my passion despite the struggle, while I still write what I knew people liked, despite that those works are not my proudest accomplishments. I see in Gil the same struggle I have with balancing my love for the work I want to do, and the life people want me to have. That quiet desperation that comes from the conflict of balance is something that struck close to home. I may not be the biggest Owen Wilson fan, maybe the casting could have been better in this role, but the film is a perfect example of the fantastic ability film has to realize the dreams we all have. Forget the theoretical science behind time travel, the butterfly effect, and the details of the sci-fi aspect of the film and just enjoy the Duesenberg ride to a sweeter, awe-inspiring time, and the character driven moments of levity and drama. A fascinating glimpse through the looking-glass of man’s nostalgia, Midnight in Paris is for dreamers, among whom I count myself, and I venture to say that most of you can do the same.

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