Midnight in Paris (2011)

“You’re in love with a fantasy.”

And so went one of Woody Allen’s most recent reveries, Midnight in Paris, which follows Gil Pender, played by the charmingly befuddled Owen Wilson. There’s something

Directed and Written by Woody Allen

that Woody Allen understands about longing that no one else has the capability of articulating. So like many of his stories, this one is one of a search for fulfillment. Gil Pender is a successful Hollywood screenplay writer who winds up in Paris with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family. The trip forces Gil to confront the failings of his relationship with Inez and the lack of fulfillment he is getting from his life and his career. At midnight, he travels back in time to a place that he imagines to be ‘the golden age’: Paris in the 1920’s.

The film, like most of Allen’s film, has a wonderful cast. It stars the adorable Owen Wilson. Alongside him is Regina George (a.k.a Rachel McAdams) who gets more evil as she gets blonder. The ‘pedantic gentleman’ Michael Sheen, who impresses in a smaller role, as per usual. Then we get a barrage of psychotically amazing performances from royalty like Kathy

Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston as the Fitzgeralds

Bates, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, Corey Stoll, Alison Pill, and Tom Hiddleston. Sometimes films can get bogged down with too dense a cast, but this orchestration of talents made for a enchanting story.

‘Portrait of a Woman’ by Amedeo Modigliani

The magic starts in when the first time skip sequence starts. When Gil first meets F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the Fitzgeralds, there’s a feeling of being profoundly star stricken. I may have even blushed (all due to the incomparably handsome Tom Hiddleston, I’m sure). There were also many peripheral appearances and mentions of sentimental historical characters like Josephine Baker, T.S. Eliot, Cole Porter, Man Ray, Amedeo Modigliani, Henry Matisse and Edgar Degas.  The appearance of those fixtures in our culture, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, Picasso, Dali, summons the pure mass of artistry they brought. It calls forth those valuable cultural magics that were followed by a recess in love and true art that has extended into ours lives and into the life of Gil Pender. The feeling is truly wonderful, and it is where Allen makes a connection with the intellectual.

Gil: That’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying.

I would say that the true magic of the film lies not with the time travel, and the beautiful shadows of legends bouncing around the walls of Gil Pender’s mind. No, it lies in the truth that Allen is attempting to communicate through this journey. That dissatisfaction with the present is not an ailment that can be cured by any supernatural escapism. That escape in any form, while romantic and quite wonderful, is not the answer. That the answer to fulfillment and happiness isn’t confined to any particular bracket in time. It’s a worthy message, one communicated beautifully, charmingly and romantically.

Where the film could have improved is in the personal relationships in the present. Gil’s fiancee, Inez, was an altogether one dimensional character with absolutely no

Michael Sheen being pedantic

redeeming qualities. As were her parents. The movie was mostly great but a truly great film cannot ignore the opportunity to develop characters, even if the message ultimately has nothing to do with them. The romantic dilemma Gil experiences between Adrianna (Marion Cotillard) and Inez is one that could have been strengthened by a more developed character in Inez.

Allen finds a way to do a million important things in one film. It was stupendously humorous. Michael Sheen’s character Paul provided many good laughs, seeing as he played an insufferable “pseudo-intellectual.” Allen managed to inject humor into the story in every context without losing the heart of the drama. Also, there was an overarching theme of Parisian worship. The romance of the place was really at the crux of this very human story. All of that along with the inclusion of the famous artworks and authentic costuming, this movie achieved authenticity though messaging and atmosphere.

Gertrude Stein: The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.

Woody Allen has a way of taking what appears to be a generic idea, nostalgia, and making it into something very true, and real. Even with the fantastical ‘going back in time’ plot point, somehow the experiences of Gil Pender with the great artists of the 20th century feels close to home. So how does he do it? I think he knows how to tap into some of the most fundamental human dilemmas. Nostalgia for a time you never knew. The feeling that you do not belong. The feeling that you’ve wasted your life. All of which are a part of the internal monologue of our collective psyche as human beings. It’s powerful because it knows you, and it talks to you, and tells you you’re not alone.

Rating: 8.9/10

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Young Adult (2011)

“And I noticed you got a KenTacoHut. You know, one of those Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell.”

Directed by Jason Reitman

Young Adult is yet another female driven dark comedy written by the magnificent Diablo Cody. Since her movies always feel like an extended vagina monologue gone meta, it’s hard for me not to love them. Her written work paired with the human smirk that is the film’s Director Jason Reitman make for a bangin’ film.

“This is a story of a girl who cried a river and drowned the whole world, and while she looked so sad in photographs I absolutely love her” prophesied  Nine Days’ John Hampson 12 years ago. No, Absolutely (Story of a Girl) is not a song about Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), Young Adult’s protagonist, but god damn do those lyrics run deep. Anyway, Mavis is the author of a young adult series, not a fucking kid’s series, a young adult series. She comes from a small town called Mercury where no one makes anything of themselves, so after her divorce she returns to try and rekindle things with her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). In the interim, she connects with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) a crippled man-child who also went to her high school. They befriend each other and then shit hits the fan. And by shit, I mean Mavis.

There’s something about how Cody writes women that is so alluring. Maybe I, like everyone else who consumes primarily male written, directed, and produced films, am starved for authentic female characters. In any case, the essence of a woman as told by another woman added immensely to this film’s appeal.

This film flourished in intermediate scenes. When Mavis is covering her face in concealer. When she goes from a grease stained crumpled up napkin, to a cardigan-ed, powdered, primped mannequin/Rolling Stones groupie. When she eats trash, and watched trash television and walks down the street. When she listens to music in her car. Cody has a way of giving the atmosphere of reality. As kitschy as her films are, I always felt like I was watching real events, and real people. Albeit, pretty fucked up people.

Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary

Charlize Theron herself is massively versatile. She is one of those rare actresses who can travel seamlessly from one genre to the next. I still haven’t been able to wash her haunting performance from Monster out of my brain. She was such a shit stain in this film that it made you kind of hate her,  but it was so superbly acted that at the end of the film you felt you’d been through the taxing emotional experience that she had been through. You understood the mundane terror of feeling like your life has gone all wrong, and that it is too late to fix it.

The stand out performance for me was given by Patton Oswalt, a comedic actor in a comparatively dramatic role. His performance was real, and convincing and funny all at once. For me he really nailed the dark comedy. He’s one of those unexpected gems.

As for how the movie was written, Cody is just a genius comic. If you can find a way to get down in the mud with her, you can’t not enjoy yourself. The film is filled to the brim with quirky little characteristic quips. Her style is so culty. I just see her with a wide brimmed hat sitting on the edge of some roof, smoking cigarettes thinking ‘how can I get Charlize Theron to say the phrase ‘theater fag”?

The whole premise of the film. ‘Pyschotic prom queen bitch’ going back home to relive her glory days only to have a huge mirror shoved in her face, in the form of everyone she used to know. Seeing what became of all the youth from her past. Fucking used tampons and crushed soda cans of people

The Ultimate Showdown

scattered across the school yard, wishing they were somewhere else. Someone else. Finally it all culminates in an epic meltdown where we learn all the unsettling details of Mavis’ haunted past, that settles the score once and for all. The popular girl is just as miserable and unfulfilled as anyone else. Probably more miserable.  It’s all very familiar, but Cody manages to make it…..well, Cody. I’ll need to see it a few more times, but for me the movie did exactly what it was meant to do. A good dark comedy cuts deeper than a good drama. I think this one came quite close.

Mavis Gary: Yeah, but most people here seem so happy with so little. It’s like they don’t even seem to care what happens to them.
Sandra Freehauf: That’s because it doesn’t matter what happens to them. They’re nothing. Might as well die. Fuck Mercury.

Rating: 8/10