The other night we went to see Midnight in Paris. Not because I’m a Woody Allen fan (I love two of his movies, Purple Rose of Cairo and Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, both of which, not coincidentally, share themes with Midnight) or because I wanted to see a romcom, but because Ebert told me what the movie was actually about–something neither the title nor the previews do very well–and the minute I knew I was all WE ARE GOING AND WE ARE GOING NOW.
So I’m going to tell you, in case you haven’t heard.
Midnight in Paris is a story about an American writer who goes to Paris. He is Woody Allen in an Owen Wilson suit, yes, complete with Emasculating Fiancee Action Figure, but the point is he loves the 20s in Paris, the Lost Generation, all the great old standards. He is dissatisfied with the present. He can’t finish his novel. And at midnight one night, while he’s sitting on the steps of some place or another, a car rolls up and out stumble the Fitzgeralds, Zelda and Scott, who beckon and wheedle and open their arms until he climbs into the car with them and becomes part of their world, meeting Hemingway, Picasso, Stein, Dali, and a host of others.
In other words, it’s about what we all secretly hope will happen when we go to Paris.
If this is your fandom, of course. And oh, it’s my fandom. I cried through most of the movie, and a bunch afterward, happy tears because it was so much of what I love and secretly want onscreen just like Purple Rose of Cairo but with writers, and it wasn’t making me mad, in fact, the direction the movie goes is wonderful and perfect, without being preachy or weird, and hit one of my literary kinks so dead on–OMG Adrianna actually has desires and an inner life and a profession of her own! And she takes off into Belle Epoque Paris instead of ever going home, and that’s shown as right and good and ok! Say yes to the magical world, Adrianna! You are awesome! You did not exist merely for the benefit of Owen Wilson!
The casting is amazing–everyone is so dead on and they light up the screen in three minute cameos–Adrian Brody and Kathy Bates as Dali and Gertrude Stein particularly–and though the storyline with the fiancee was a little black and white IT IS OBVIOUS SHE IS TERRIBLE FOR HIM and YOU WILL NOW WANT TO MURDER ALL OF THESE AWFUL PEOPLE, the movie hit the theme that Allen does from time to time, of an impossible desire being utterly fulfilled, and I’m a sucker for that. (Clearly.)
And I cried because this is my impossible desire. It could only have been more perfectly keyed to my heart if Anais Nin and Henry Miller had been there (they’re ten years later, of course). Because I’ve gone to Paris, and in my heart of hearts, this is what I wanted to happen, somehow. I didn’t drink absinthe because it tasted good–ugh, that shit is foul–but because I wanted it to summon up F Scott and Gertrude and Dali by some kind of sympathetic magic. Even if it was just meeting my own amazing cadre of people and drinking and talking about books forever and walking along the Seine, that would have been fine, because that’s what it was, and I love how Midnight captures that and says it so gently and kindly. I like movies that are kind. Not sweet or easy, but at least kind.
And it just left me wanting so badly to have that, to be able to go somewhere and sit with my friends and drink and talk about books–not the publishing industry, not ebooks, not Kickstarter or social media, not deals and options, but books and art and life and the universe and everything. I don’t even like Hemingway really (though I LOVED him in the film). I just want to have that give and take, that magical group of loud, shouty, laughing, passionate, enthusiastic people (and yes, I am well aware that life did not work out for more or less all of them, we can skip the suicide and asylums) living and loving and making mistakes and making art.
This is, in fact, my dearest wish in life, and the rare moment when I’ve had it have been my happiest. Sometimes it happens at cons, but usually we’re all too on the make/strangers/tired as hell to really get into this kind of intellectual intercourse. You can’t force it. But I think we all want it. We look at these groups of artists in the past and want to be on the inside of the conversation, inside the fire-circle. Did anyone in those circles think they were as amazing as we think they were? I don’t know. Are we making the circles now that will be talked about in the future? Maybe. Is my Left Bank online, blogs and tweets? Maybe. I just point helplessly and say that, that’s what I want. That’s what writers are supposed to get instead of health insurance. What’s the secret password to that life?
All I know is that this brief, gorgeous movie hit me so hard, and made me want that world, and that life, all over again, with all the sharpness of nostalgia, and wistfulness of…well, whatever the word for future-nostalgia is. Nostalgia for the life one might one day live. that one desperately wants to live. Paging Oxford. Get on that.
In other words, go see this movie, and then please move to Portland so we can light up the cafes.