I’ve been wanting to comment about this for weeks, but was always on the go with my round-the-world trip. Now that I’ve landed, I can focus.
While in San Diego, I saw Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. I’d heard murmurs about how this one smacked of the old Allen genius. A good friend in LA raved about it and instructed me to see it so we could discuss it when we got together. So it was my assignment.
I was pretty skeptical. The last solid Woody Allen movie I’d seen was Hannah and Her Sisters 25 years ago. Ever since then — with the exception of Mighty Aphrodite, which had its moments — they’ve all seemed the same. The same Woody Allen angst, with him in the forced role of tortured partner of whatever young thing of the moment was playing his significant other.
But this was thrilling. It was the old Woody Allen writing the same love letter to Paris as he’d always done with New York. It was him at the top of his old game. So clever. So creative. So funny. I won’t spoil the plot in case you haven’t seen it yet, but I want to mention one line. It was one of the leads marveling at the charms of Paris and saying, “What is it about this city? I’m going to write a note to the Chamber of Commerce.”
That was so much the old Allen that the guy sitting next to me said loudly to his wife, “Now that’s the old Woody Allen.”
A satisfying treat from beginning to end. Great cast: Rachel McAdams, who had left me cold in the past, but wowed me this time; Adrien Brody and Kathy Bates in fun supporting roles. A gorgeous city. And, of course, that script. But with one big flaw for me: Owen Wilson. Playing a much-younger Woody Allen. (At least Allen at 75 had finally given up on casting himself as the romantic lead.)
Got to admit I went in with a bias. I don’t get Owen Wilson. He’s a pretty boy — I’ll be charitable and call him cute. He’s may be a good writer (Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums), but, IMO, he’s no actor. Especially in nuanced roles. Like playing John Grogan, Marley’s dad, in Marley & Me, with Jennifer Aniston as the missus. Don’t get me started on her; I really don’t get her.
So Owen’s got a funny-looking broken nose. For some reason, Hollywood thinks that automatically makes him funny. It doesn’t. To me, he comes across onscreen as having about as much emotion as the hapless scarecrow guarding the cornfield in The Wizard of Oz.
To me, Allen made a big mistake having Wilson do his speaking for him. Coming out of Wilson’s mouth, the words lost their bounce and went splat. Such a shame. The script was so deeply Allen. And it was obvious Allen worked like hell to make Wilson appear deep. But you can’t get more than one emotion from a grinning scarecrow.
Midnight in Paris needed someone with Allen’s neurotic, comic tendencies as the lead. Someone believable as a tortured screenwriter. Please tell me there are no actors who could play a young Woody Allen. All that new talent waiting for that big Hollywood break? There’s not another budding Dustin Hoffman, Albert Brooks or Alan Arkin out there?
Ben Stiller, Wilson’s frequent co-star, would have been better. Or Jon Hamm, who did a nice comic turn on 30 Rock. Maybe they weren’t available.
Can you suggest anyone? Because I’m drawing a frustrating blank.
I’d read Owen Wilson considers himself a writer at heart. Please, Hollywood, take him at his word and stop trying to make him an actor.
I thought even French first lady Carla Bruni did a better job than Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris.