June 26, 2011

The Return To Form Of An American Auteur

Full Disclosure: I have an obsessive fascination with all things Paris in the 1920s and the Lost Generation.  So I secretly have a hunch – call it fantasy, if you must – that Woody Allen made in Paris especially for me, and no one else. 

For a while, I – like a lot of long-time Woody Allen fans – thought that Allen’s days of making classic, smart, insightful, biting comedies were a thing of the past.  Then he surprised everyone with Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  As if to prove that it wasn’t some late-career fluke, Allen follows up that cinematic triumph with another winner here.

Gil (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter with literary ambitions, and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) are visiting Paris with her stereotypically Republican parents (Mimi Kennedy, Kurt Fuller).  The conflict between Gil and his fiancée and her parents lies in the fact that he has romantic notions of giving up his lucrative Hollywood career to become a serious, full-time novelist in Paris while they want him to follow the money in Malibu and ignore whatever “fantasies” he may harbor.

One night, after a wine tasting, Gil walks alone through the streets of Paris.  At the stroke of , a 1920s-model Peugeot pulls up with a group of party-goers who invite Gil to join them.   At the party, Gil realizes that he has been transported to the 1920s where he is a sort of intruder in A Moveable Feast.  During the evening, he befriends Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Allison Pill, Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll).  Hemingway, who speaks to hilarious effect just as he writes in economical sentences, even promises to have Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) critique Gil’s manuscript.

In the following days, Gil spends much of his time walking.  During the daytime while he’s in 2011, he meets a storeowner, Gabrielle (Lea Seydoux), with whom he shares a love of the 1920s.  His evenings are spent in the 1920s, where he meets such Lost Generation luminaries as Picasso, Salvadore Dali (played by a hysterically show-stealing Adrian Brody), and Man Ray.  One of the funniest scenes in the movie occurs when Gil confesses to his Surrealist friends that he is actually from 2011…and they find nothing particularly unusual about his revelation.  

Gil also falls in love with Picasso’s mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who like Gil, wishes she lived in a bygone era.  Adriana pines for the romanticism of Belle Epoque, Paris’ Golden Age.  Similarly, a horse and carriage full of party-goers invite Gil and Adriana, and soon they are transported to turn-of-the-century Paris and meet Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas.  Adriana is smitten with this era and proposes that the two of them stay. 

At this crossroad, Gil has an epiphany that while there is a “good old, glory days” comfort and romanticism to the past, it was never as perfect and memories have a way of rewriting history.  He decides that it’s better to accept the imperfections of the present and make the best of it.  With his new-found wisdom, Gil comes back to 2011 and makes a few decisions to improve his present and pursue a more satisfying future.   

In many ways, in Paris is Woody Allen’s love letter to Paris – the city, the art, the literature.  In fact, the first two minutes or so of the movie looks like a combination of a film made by the Tourist Board of Paris and a Monet painting.  However, despite the Parisian setting, the characters and dialogue are very much Woody Allen’s chatty and illustrious New York City.  Owen Wilson plays Gil by channeling Woody Allen.  Clearly, no one but Allen could have written Wilson’s dialogue.  Inez’s parents’ repartee is intrinsically Upper East Side.  Inez’s friend, the insufferable pseudo-intellectual Paul (played hilariously by Michael Sheen), who is a self-proclaimed expert on everything is also pure Manhattan.  We’ve seen all these characters in other Woody Allen movies, but they are still extremely funny and watchable.

in Paris shows Woody Allen at the peak of his abilities as an auteur.  Bravo.     

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