Consider me charmed.
This movie is not extremely deep. Every once in a while it says something that makes you look inside yourself and wonder how deep you as an individual might be, but the movie itself is no deep chasm of thought; it is more the equivalent of an eclair. At first glance, it is dark, a little bit hard and bitter and flaky, as all romantic comedies today seem to want to be. Push through that exterior and you find the fluffiest, lightest filling you could ever dream of. Paris! Rain! Cole Porter at the piano! Kind words from Gertrude Stein! Owen Wilson charming you into submission with that sheepish “Who me?” look! It’s all so nice. But don’t try to sink in any deeper! Think about this film too much and you will realize that you are looking for more substance where it is not. You’ll simply be gnashing your own teeth together — an eclair only has so much matter.
This film might be one of those special few to get nominated for an Oscar this year. Part of me wonders how this can be — can a film this slight, this airy possibly be considered, well… hefty enough to make the cut? Surely something with more tears and force of will and drama should take its place. I mean, grasp it too lightly and this movie will float away like a balloon over the Seine. Up had more weight, and that was a movie about helium, for Christsakes!
Allen’s film is really just a parade of types, a series of travelogue vanity shots of famous places, a series of vignettes loosely tied around a vaguely arresting plot. It’s moral, “the present is a little unsatisfying because life is a little unsatisfying,” has been explored so much more deeply in so many more movies.
But how often has it been as fun? Possibly never. So I respond to all my complaints above… “AND?
What do I need all that other stuff for when types and vanity shots and vignettes are just right? When they are prepared to near perfection and they taste so darn delightful?
This film is a light romp, a brusque walk on a foggy night, the type of movie I never really get to see as a moviegoer in 2011. I just wrote an entire treatise on a Michael Bay film, which, like just about every franchise film this decade, should be about nothing at all (Robots from SPAAAAAACE!) but still tries to stuff in way more than our senses can handle. This film knows it’s about so much more (I will never forget Ernest Hemingway’s droll advice on losing that fear of death in the bedroom), but it treads about it all so lightly. It never tries to stuff in more than the senses can handle. It just delights in what it puts before you. The simple delights of seeing Cole Porter at the piano. Of Dali’s ludicrous ramblings about “rhinoceroses.” Of seeing Gil Pender hand Zelda Fitzgerald a Valium. The tremendous thing about this film is that, at midnight, it whisks you away to the same world of wonders it whisks it’s protagonist away to, and for a while you feel, like Gil, like a kid in a candy store. Like Gil, you have to leave that place and realize it is only a construct of your mind, but boy is it fun while you’re there!
I was giggling, because this is all so funny, but never stupidly so. There is just something giddily breath-taking about seeing Hemingway dress down Fitzgerald about Zelda in these long run-on sentences, and so your carried away in spite of yourself. It’s the simplest form of time-travel fantasy, one we all have. But that’s the thing, we all have that fantasy; it was nice to have a guide as skilled and droll as Woody Allen to take us along for that ride this time.
Allen is one of those directors I love despite having explored his work so little, and I am fortunate to be jumping on the bandwagon at a time when everyone has nice things to say about him after two decades of drudgery. Now that Allen is a darling again, everyone is recalling their fondest Allen memory, so I am getting some great suggestions for what films to see that exemplify what make this little guy so special. There is still so much out there that I haven’t been properly introduced to yet, but it’s great when a little morsel like this sets you on the path and says, “Hey, you like what he did with this story about Paris and nostalgia! Wait til you see what else he had up his sleeve…” I had my little eclair. I want more.