Literary Shenanigans: Kelly Makes Excuses and Reviews “Midnight in Paris”

Excuses! Still slogging through Infinite Jest. My brain hurts a lot, but in the best way possible. I’m also planning a bridal shower for my sister, going to a wedding on Saturday, a funeral on Sunday, trying to finalize grad school plans (which includes trying to get financial aid on the phone, an impossible task that has sent me to the 7th layer of holding hell), perfecting my power of evil-librarian-eyes so that I can stop annoying parents in their tracks, and of course – planning for LEAKYCON!

Which is essentially a way of saying that my hellaciously busy schedule did not allow me to complete any books this week. Apologies, dear friends! I did, however, go see the hilarious new Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris.

I ask you this: Do you like ridiculous time traveling plots? Hilarious literary AND Republican-bashing jokes? Shenanigans? If you answered yes to any of these questions, join me after the jump.

I had heard positive but vague things about this film – Owen Wilson is great! Rachel McAdams is spot-on! What fun! Paris is beautiful! These snippets gave me absolutely no idea of what the movie was about, so I walked in expecting some dry-wit and maybe a complicated relationship and probably a woman being simplistically portrayed. The usual Woody Allen fare. There is all of that, but so much more.

This film is absolutely charming – funny, a little bit earnest, and exploring our obsession with a time past. Couple those qualities with literary-based time-traveling shenanigans and you’ve got Midnight in Paris.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a writer of shitty Hollywood films, which has netted him a lot of money and his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams). Gil is experiencing some angst over his profession and has decided to write real literature, which has always been his intent. Inez and her stupid Republican parents (cue hilarious Tea Party jokes!) want Gil to keep churning out shoddy scripts because it’s profitable. Torn between the easy path and the unknown, Gil shuffles around Paris, sightseeing with Inez and her insufferable college friend Paul (Michael Sheen). All he really wants to do is be inspired by Paris and write. This is quickly heading to melodrama, you might think. With heartfelt conversations and -ugh- bruised hearts. No worries – One night, Gil drunkenly gets into a cab THAT BRINGS HIM BACK IN TIME.

So begins the hilarity. It’s the roaring ’20s, Parisian style. We meet Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who give the best parties and are as inebriated and wild as we’ve always imagined. Dalí is there rambling on about rhinoceros, and Pablo Picasso is defending his paintings. Kathy Bates plays an excellent Gertrude Stein, dispensing literary advice like no one’s business.

Finally – Hemingway. If you’ve read anything by him, or just know his writing style and his grandiose way of speaking – please go see this film just to laugh. The way the camera treats him is brilliant – he starts talking about being simple and direct, with men facing death with valor and honesty. And how making love passionately allows you to not be scared of death for a moment.  The shot pans to him and creeps closer to show only his face, seeing the manic gleam in his eyes as he waxes poetic about his own aesthetic views. It’s freaking perfect. Seriously, Corey Stoll should start a business as a Hemingway impersonator hire himself out to literary themed parties. I would book him in a heartbeat.

Where was I? Ah yes. There is a theme behind all of this crazy plot. It’s really an exploration of Golden Era thinking – people who look to the past to see the perfect time period in which to live. The movie basically spells out the meaning for you, so this thematic nature was a little heavy-handed. And normally I scoff at people who say “when times were simpler” or “back in the good old days.” Especially those who look to the ’50s. Well maybe times were better if you were a normal, white male with a college degree, but anyone not so privileged – have fun! I want to live in the present, because I’ve been shaped by the world that’s come before. There is no going back.

Except I totally want to live in 1920s Paris, because the movie made it so freaking great. The film contradicts the message of living in the present by making the past so awesome. What literary-minded person wouldn’t want to drink with Hemingway or discuss poetry with good old T.S. Eliot? Or try to find a party where Joyce and Beckett were arguing with Stein over Finnegans Wake? My god – the very thought is making my eyes glassy with wonder. Maybe Allen meant to do this; seducing us into believing the past is far more fun and free and better for artists than today’s world, which is portrayed as being driven by profit. Then saying – ha! You fell for it, literary-minded human watching my film. You thought you were above Golden-era thinking, but you’re not. In that way, this film is really sneaky. Like knowing a magician’s tricks, but still being amazed by the sleight of hand.

Midnight in Paris is a really well-written and well-executed movie. From the subtle literary jokes to overt liberal snarking, the humor is refreshing and an excellent counter to the the deeper and sneakier ideas of what it means to live in the present. Or just go see it for Hemingway.

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2 thoughts on “Literary Shenanigans: Kelly Makes Excuses and Reviews “Midnight in Paris”

  1. Sounds amazing! I want to get drunk with Fitzgerald while wearing flapper clothing! And then ask Hemingway why he made “The Old Man and the Sea” so damn long before doing a scene by scene re–enactment of the “South Park” episode with the illegal immigrants reading it.

  2. […] This film, directed by Woody Allen was on of my favorites of the year, almost exclusively because of the 1920′s era that Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson, continually flocks to. We get to witness firsthand the flighty nature of Zelda Fitzgerald, the alcoholic womanizing tendencies of a young Ernest Hemingway, and even hear the works of Cole Porter. It’s easy to become jealous of Gil and the fun adventures he goes on with his idols, even more so when in the 1920′s he discovers another time slip that takes one to Moulin Rouge era Paris. There is so much to enjoy in this movie, from the performances to the nostalgia that it’s hard not to love. For a more in-depth look at the film, see Kelly’s post here. […]

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