Smile Politely

Now playing at The Art: Reviews of Midnight in Paris and The Trip

Eds. Note: These film reviews are based on the four-star system for movie reviews. I’ll be using that base for reviews for those that need concrete numbers to go along with the grey areas that reviews present.

Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson, as Gil, embodies the romantic idealistic writer, in Paris for a vacation while the future in-laws attend to business and their boorish lives. The opening shots of the film: the streets, the corner cafes, The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the city lights contrasted with the sky, the Monet-esque trees and water … the rain … it all makes you yearn to visit the city. And Gil agrees.

He sees life as a whole new thing in Paris. He wants to live in the magical Paris of the 1920s. He wants to walk with a baguette under his arm. He wants to stroll along the streets of Paris when it’s in its most romantic form — in the rain. But does his fiancée Inez?

She’s tired of the “charming bistros” and doesn’t seem to offer much of an imagination or sense of adventure — at least the kind that aligns with Gil’s. So the question becomes, is there room for Gil to love Inez as he falls more in love with Paris? Five minutes into the film Inez claims that Gil is “in love with a fantasy,” to which he responds, “I’m in love with you.” A discerning viewer is on guard.

Gil and Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, seem to have little in common. When tested, Gil comes up with the fact that they both enjoy Naan as their mutual ground. Pretty mind-blowing, right? Gil also admits that he has been having panic attacks since he’s been dating Inez, but he’s sure they’ll go away after the wedding. I doubt it.

Inez seems to stifle Gil’s creativity and is perhaps one reason why he isn’t sure that he can finish a novel. I’m not saying she is totally at fault, but she doesn’t seem to recognize the adverse affects she is having on Gil. While looking at art with “knowledgeable” Paul, with whom Inez seems to be enthralled, she won’t allow Gil to get in a word as Paul expounds on Monet and a Picasso painting that Gil saw Picasso himself working on the night before. I know, that sounds awfully strange.

Meanwhile Gil is making progress on his novel in which his new lead character works in a nostalgia shop. The character lives in the past and longs for a different time, as does Gil, who finds himself on magical midnight strolls through 1920s Paris. Along the way he meets the lost generation: Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald (and Zelda), and T.S. Eliot. He watches Picasso paint and Cole Porter play. He talks to the surrealists, including Dali, who are the only ones who understand his apparent time travel.

Gil and Paul, played by Michael Sheen (side note: an actor raved about in The Trip), are opposites essentially. Paul believes that “nostalgia is denial of the painful present.” He may be on the right track here though, as Gil seems to seek an escape to a time and place that allows him to feel free and creative. A place that fortunately/unfortunately doesn’t exist to Inez or with her in it. It’s those differences that become highlighted and alter the magnetic forces in the film as true feelings become more realized.

Gil grows as a writer and a person in the film. He worries whether or not his novel is any good and if the subject is even worthwhile. Hemingway reassures him that “no subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.” I’d say that would boost any writer’s confidence. Gil also tries to take Stein’s advice concerning the re-writes of his novel and about his “defeatist” tendencies. He plays that out most notably with the enticing Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard, who embodies the nostalgic escape from his imprisoned reality and a new hope. But is Adriana what Gil is ultimately seeking or is she just a guide in the right direction? She seems to long for him as well, but what else does she long for? Both Picasso and Hemingway couldn’t satisfy her, so how will Gil? I don’t want to give things away so I’ll just say that Gil does get “left in the rain” in a manner of speaking. What you need to find out is whether he’s alone or not.

The performances in the film all around are great; even the minor characters leave a lasting impression. Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard are just fascinating to watch on screen and I hope they receive the credit that they deserve. If you didn’t know going in that this was a Woody Allen film then you might be surprised to find out afterwards. There are even Woody Allen impersonations. But, mostly, it just has a different feel to it than his other films that I’ve seen. Midnight in Paris is one of my favorite movies of the year. Don’t miss it. I give it 4 stars.

Midnight in Paris is back at the Art and plays Friday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Be sure to check the schedule for times.


The Trip

The Trip offers almost a documentary-style look at two dudes on a road trip. You could think of it as Sideways, but with British humor and impersonations, English countryside instead of Northern California, food instead of wine, and a bit less self-loathing. In fact, my notes from the film basically read: Talk about the scene 40 minutes in. Xanadu. Scallops. Michael Caine.

Both Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play themselves in name and tour the finest restaurants in the north of England for The Observer magazine, where Coogan is a writer. The duo spends a great deal of time trying to outdo one another in wit and humor and we get to watch as a casual observer. They’re not the best of friends exactly — Steve admits that he asked a bunch of other people that were all too busy to join him on the trip from which his girlfriend, Mischa, bailed. A good portion of the film is spent either in the car or at the next fancy 5-star restaurant with a 7-course meal. The location doesn’t matter though because both Steve and Rob are throwing out their best Michael Caine or James Bond impersonations and arguing over who has the better take on each.

The impersonations are funny and had me laughing quite a bit, at times, but things can start to get a little old after an hour or so (okay, not the Michael Caine stuff — I just love that guy). The real intricacies of the film, instead, lie in the differences in the characters. Steve is a hypocrite. He finds time to call his girlfriend — from whom he is currently on a break — to expound his jealousy for her mingling with other males in her business ventures. Then, in the morning, we see that he has hooked up with a local who slips out before he’s fully awake. He experiences an inner struggle, a longing, and a questioning of self. Repeat. Meanwhile, Rob spends his nights soliciting phone sex from his girlfriend or wife, Sally (many things aren’t clearly explained in the film), and remains steady and content throughout. When he asks Steve about his night it seems more like an innocent fascination rather than an attempt to live vicariously through Steve’s unsteady, albeit adventurous life.

It’s the bookends of the film that highlight the differences in the men most clearly and it isn’t until the end of the film that this dichotomy is truly played out to its fullest. At this point, all the other muddled details don’t really matter because we see each of them in their raw form, and their actions and thoughts that preceded now make more sense. In a scene around 40 minutes into the film, Steve questions whether Rob is more of an Olivia Newton John Xanadu fan, rather than the Xanadu of Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” that Rob seems to be more fascinated with. Steve says to Rob, “I’d rather be me than you because I’d rather have these moments of genius than a lifetime of mediocrity.” But it all leaves you wondering if he is just continuing to lie to himself and how many people watching are doing the same thing. I give it 3 stars.

The Trip is back at the Art and plays this coming Saturday, Monday and Wednesday. Be sure to check the schedule for times.

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