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Student Entertainment Committee's free presentation of 'Midnight in Paris' a pleasant finale to eve...

By Conor Simao
On April 14, 2012


I was quite taken with the campus Wednesday afternoon, which itself was under siege by an amusing corpus of vendors and inflatable, carnival-like structures. But when the sun finally set, the eventfulness refused to follow suit.

Indeed, the Student Entertainment Committee, only hours after treating us all to their "Union Block Party" (which was, admittedly, just really cool) screened Woody Allen's most recent picture, "Midnight in Paris," for free in the Edwards Hall Auditorium.

Perhaps still bitter about dropping $13 on a 15-year-old movie (that will go nameless) last weekend, I was more than happy to engage Allen's latest work, gratis. Like many of his forays into romantic comedy, "Midnight" isn't exactly laugh-out-loud hilarious. Rather, it's an understated, quirky, and charming tale of a relationship in collapse. "Charming tale of a relationship in collapse" may sound at the very least oxymoronic, if not straight out sadistic, but I promise that, if nothing else, the movie ends on a joyful note. It begins, though, on a borderline dismal one.

Gil Pender is a disgruntled Hollywood screenwriter and aspiring bohemian novelist. Not a huge fan of his own cinematic work, he bemoans the big studio handiworks as trite and forgettable. Blockbuster-land isn't exactly his idealistic domain, but he sure knows how to game it. He's more of an early 20th century modernist who simply wants to live in Paris and finish up his severely nostalgic novel (I wonder what his views would be on 2012's upcoming "Great Gatsby" remake). But his fiancée, Inez, and her hyper-logical, conservative parents find nothing charming in his stifled romanticism. The tension in that contrast may seem kind of playbook, and maybe that's because it is. But magical, surrealist plot directions are on the horizon.

Gil, Inez and her aforementioned folks are vacationing in Paris where they meet Paul, a friend of Inez, who, with his own lady-friend, join the two on various awkward double dates to local art museums. While Inez adores the man, Gil considers him at best a shameless pedant and at worst an obnoxious pseudo-intellectual. More importantly, it becomes immediately clear that Gil's own fiancée favors Paul. Dejected, threatened and possibly jealous of this, Gil rejects their evening plans and instead journeys the city streets solo. Sitting drunkenly on the steps of a building during a short respite, the clock strikes midnight, and what happens next is simply fantastic. 

A vintage car pulls up and its passengers invite him inside. The reluctant, slightly intoxicated Gil joins them in the backseat. He's a bit confused by their antiquated style of dress, but eager to socialize with the natives. Eventually, they arrive at a party being thrown for Jean Cocteau, at which Gil meets Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Without much in the way of explanation, we discover that he's been transported to the 1920s. He later meets Earnest Hemmingway, T.S. Eliot, Pablo Picasso and many more of his personal idols. He begins to go on nightly walks, knowing that at midnight, he shall become one with the past.

In this realm, he develops deep affection for Picasso's mistress, Adriana. When this begins to unfold, the juxtaposition is almost too clear. On one side of the timeline is practicality-a comfortable, high-paying job, a property in Malibu, a well-off wife who lives in the new millennium. On the other is romanticism via Adrianna, a relic of the past, a symbol of what Gil has always chased-aesthetic and emotional beauty amplified by nostalgia and the passing of time.

But as we soon find out, dissatisfaction with the current is a universal condition that crosses temporal lines. Adrianna herself harkens for the turn of the century Bella Époque days, writing off her own era as uninterestingly contemporary. On one of their romantic outings, they are further backtracked to that very "Gilded Age" period. Ironically, people there long for the departed Renaissance, lambasting the banality of modern day society. Oh, the irony.  

Thematically, nostalgia, and its effect on our perception of the past, plays a gargantuan role in this story. Gil soon learns that his attraction to the bygone will only go so far. To find happiness, he must search for beauty in the present. Adrianna, who disagrees, elects to stay in the 1890s with or without him, which is sad but significant. Inez, we soon learn, has been wrapped up in her own betrayal, an affair with her long-time romantic interest, Paul. She and Gil break up, with him quitting his job and choosing to live in Paris.

And so he finds love in the 2000s, but now beside a French shopkeeper with a similar affinity for all things 20th century and beyond. It's more than perceivable that she's "the right one" for the quirky, elusive Gil, but the credits roll before we find out for sure.

Ultimately, Allen's fun use of thematic depth, historical figures, and comedy renders "Midnight in Paris" simultaneously accessible and quasi-intellectual; thoughtful and smile inducing; short but irresistibly sweet.

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