I recently saw the new Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris” against my better judgement and found it “enjoyable”, although it was not “good”.

[ASIDE: There are many things which I find enjoyable but not good (Zombie movies, Fritos, “Toddlers and Tiaras”) and there is a big gulf between the two. There are things which are objectively believed to be “good” which I do not enjoy (Bergman movies, “Exile on Main Street”, pomegranates) as well. Maybe it’s the American in us that believes whatever we “like” has to be “good”, but nothing could be further from the truth.]

After seeing “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, “Whatever Works” and “Everyone Says I Love You”, I signed off on New Woody Allen Movies. They seem self-important, designed for the privileged class (which he used to take shots at) and his direction consistently seems to be “Okay [actor] do your best impression of me.” Casting choices give you the impression he picks female leads based on  who he would like to sleep with if given the chance (e.g. Mira Sorvino in “Mighty Aphrodite”) and he routinely makes women stupid, unfaithful, or just irritating. (Larry David’s romance with Evan Rachel Wood in “Whatever Works” was particularly gross, given Allen’s daughter-dating.) Worst of all, and least excusably of all, the movies haven’t been funny in a long time.

For these and other reasons, I swore them off. Until a recent trip to New York for a birthday party, where 41% of the people I met recommended “Midnight in Paris”. “No thanks, I’m out on Woody Allen,” says me. “No – this is different. It’s great. I swear,” says They. Fine, so I saw the movie back in Boston with my wife and some friends after drinking from a tower of beer at a nearby brewpub (this did not influence my enjoyment of the movie).

The film’s point, made using time-travel, is that romanticizing a previous time and place (in this case Paris in the 1920s) is great and all, but really, everyone romanticizes another time/place from where they live so let’s just enjoy the present. When I grew up in the late 80s/early 90s, it was the 60s/70s that were glorified, with “Magic Carpet Ride” used to sell MGD. Nowadays, I’d assume the phones and the internets probably prevent that sort of nostalgia – would you even want to live pre-internet?

Two big issues I have with the film: First, the Owen Wilson character is played to be some kind of bum in the face of his wealthy soon-to-be in-laws, but he’s a rich Hollywood screenwriter capable of buying in a beach house in Malibu. So it’s not just elitism, it’s the super-elite looking down on the merely elite. I am kind of a class-warrior, but in the face of such shitty economic times, anyone would agree it’s hard to get behind these characters. Is the target demographic for this film residing entirely on Martha’s Vineyard and in the Hamptons?

Second, the elitism is not just financial, it’s also educational. Owen Wilson’s trip into the past is a laundry list of intellectual reference points (Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Man Ray, etc etc) which you would only get if you took an unnecessary number of arts/literature classes like I did. Every time I whispered to my wife something like “Oh it’s Luis Bunuel! Our hero is leading him to conceive of plot for the film ‘The Discrete Charm of the Bourgoise‘!”, she asked me what the hell I was talking about. Those references give everyone over 60 with a liberal arts degree, especially film and lit majors, stifled laughs of recognition and validation, but make for a winking snoot-fest of a film.

My wife said “I don’t get it” when we walked out, and she had no reason to. She is not interested in surrealist film of the 60s (totally understandable) and when she asked Woody Allen to entertain her for 1.5 hours, he did his best to make inside jokes about how clever he was, rather than tell a “good” and “enjoyable” story with solid characters and some humor (see “Annie Hall”).

Thanks, but I’ll watch “Manhattan” again and pretend this and future Woody Allen movies don’t exist.

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