The Golden Globe nominations are out, and the wonderful Midnight In Paris is up for Best Comedy or Musical, Best Actor (Owen Wilson), Best Director (Woody Allen), and Best Screenplay (again, Woody Allen). Having grossed more than one hundred and thirty million dollars worldwide, the film is Woody Allen’s biggest commercial success ever. The question is why. Why, after a career spanning more than forty years and so many beloved movies, have audiences been so taken with the seventy-six year-old’s latest? Critics, observers and fans are offering different explanations. Some see Midnight In Paris as having the broadest appeal of Allen’s career. Others see its success as being the byproduct of so many fans of the director hoping for years that he’d make one last brilliant movie. Maybe there’s a grain of truth to those rationales, but I see a different explanation.
Woody Allen is the greatest tour guide in the world, a perfect mix of sophisticated knowledge and biting wit. He knows all the best places and all the strangest people. Like Anthony Bourdain, the filmmaker has this brilliant ability to simultaneously treasure and trash the same place. For years, he showed us around New York City. Through carriage rides in Central Park, houses sitting below the Thunderbolt on Coney Island and tirades about exorbitant rents for bug-infested apartments, he let his viewers feel like both tourists and residents, hitting the landmarks and the neighborhood holes in the wall. It wasn’t enough for his characters to have personalities shaped by their upbringings and outlooks, many of them had personalities directly shaped by New York.
Of course, it would be inaccurate to say Allen never strayed too far from Midtown. In Bananas, much of the action takes place in San Marcos, a country both fictional and in Latin America. Annie Hall too contains its share of plot-essential traveling, mostly notably in Los Angeles where Alvy somehow comes across as even more cantankerous, but despite these movements and others, it’s still fair to say for much of Allen’s career, he was rightly known as a New York director. That was where he was most comfortable, and that’s where many expected him to stay. So much for that assumption.
Since 2005, Allen has shot the majority of his movies in Europe. From London to Paris to Barcelona, he’s gallivanted around the world and somehow found a renewed focus and energy while doing it. Diving into his locations in an attempt to make them feel as authentic as possible, Allen has tried to bring the sharpness and focus he looked at New York with to some of the more beautiful and historic places across the ocean. In doing so, he’s given us two very good films,Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and now, one absolutely brilliant movie.
To many, Paris is the most enchanting city in Europe. A strange mix of historical significance and modern high society, it’s a bridge between the past and present, a place where travelers can acculturate themselves with the old and the opulent while living amidst bustling relevance. In Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen walks that complex tightrope perfectly, giving viewers both the modern perspective through the eyes of visitors and the dreamy throwback through the eyes of the Lost Generation. It plays like a walking tour of the most visited city in the world, and as our eyes and ears, Allen is simply perfect. The same attention to detail and the same wonderment he gave to New York for so many years, he gives to Paris here, making it feel every bit as magical as we might expect without losing a sense of honesty.
I’ve always wanted to visit Paris. Woody Allen hasn’t changed that longing, except maybe to add in the wrinkle that I’d like to visit it with him. I’d like to see the city through his eyes just a little bit longer. I’d like him to show me a few more characters who live there. I’d like to know why they live there, what they do for livings and how Paris has shaped their lives. In fact, I’d like him to spend the next twenty years showing me Paris, at least if that wouldn’t inhibit him from showing me around the rest of the world.
From New York to London to Paris, Woody Allen has looked at a lot of the most wonderful cities on Earth. Now I want him to comment on my town. I want him to go to the places I go. I want his characters to eat at the same restaurants I do. I want to know how he’d see where I live my life, and when he’s done, I’d like to see him comment on your neck of the woods. For years, I loved how he showed me New York from so many different angles, but now Midnight In Paris has made me want to see the rest of the world.
That’s why I think people love Midnight In Paris, and that’s why, selfishly, I want Woody Allen to visit me next.