Friday, July 01, 2011

BuboBlog Reviews 'Midnight in Paris'

(We got to see "Midnight in Paris" while we were in Atlanta, thanks to ever-appreciated grandparent babysitting. Note: Atlanta movie-ticket prices have caught up with the Bay Area. They were $11 each, for a non 3-D picture.)

I'm always a little skeptical when critics hail Woody Allen's latest movie as his great comeback. They pretty much say this about every other film (and the ones they don't say it about are terrible). So you have to take it with a grain of salt. Similar phenomenon: Bob Dylan albums.

In the case of "Midnight in Paris," the acclaim is warranted — to an extent. It is the best Woody Allen movie in years (at least since "Match Point" in 2005). But it's more a case of him actually spending the time to craft a decent picture, rather than exhibiting a stroke of genius.

First off: The best part of "Midnight in Paris" is it doesn't have Woody Allen in it (he gives all his lines to Owen Wilson). The second-best part: It doesn't have Scarlett Johansson (she was okay in "Match Point," but was a big factor in making Allen's next film, "Scoop," into a campy mess). I think sooner or later the world is going to have to accept that she's not a very good actress.

Like many of Allen's films, "Midnight in Paris" spends its early scenes setting up a question (in this case: is the past more alluring than the present?) and then using a fantasy to explore it. The difference here is Allen actually spends the time to render interesting characters and write clever dialogue. The opening scenes of some of his other recent films feel like they were ad-libbed or written just before filming ("Melinda and Melinda"). With those efforts, it almost seemed as if Allen thought schlocky writing was part of his charm — perhaps as an homage to Vaudeville.

The tone and humor isn't much of a departure in "Midnight in Paris," but Allen has found a subject that lets him shine. Wilson plays a writer who travels back in time to Paris in the 1920s, where he meets Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald and virtually every other luminary from that era. Wilson is a delightful proxy for Allen, and the supporting actors are well-cast (though, something about Corey Stoll as Hemingway felt a little off). I loved the scene where Wilson suggests Luis Buñuel make a film about a dinner party that can't leave the room — but Buñuel doesn't understand what would stop them.

It's hardly worth trying to spot anachronisms here, since it's not as if Allen is aiming for realism. (Still, having Zelda Fitzgerald discuss lobotomies in the '20s stood out as an obvious flub.)

"Midnight in Paris" also has its share of corny jokes and a false notes (a scene where a private detective winds up in Louis XVI's court fell a little flat). And it's not as if Allen is reinventing himself here. But taken as a whole, the film serves as a fine reminder of why the man is still allowed to make movies.

BuboBlog Rating: 3 asterisks (out of 4).