The single-biggest “Wow” to grace this screen is the fact that I can take Owen Wilson seriously in a non-comical lead role.
I’ve had this film on my (soon-to-be) patented “Interest radar” ever since it released almost a decade ago. I even recall reading a review of the then-newly-released film in a newspaper during my “Rotten Tomatoes Critic” phase. High school wasn’t too exciting for me, but it was the root of my fascination with film and film critique. Something about the film described by its synopsis and the paper’s reviewer (whose name I don’t recall)—”romantic,” “dream-like,” etc.—intrigued me from the start. It ended up taking eight years to finally pounce upon the desire that once invigorated my cynical core.
I ended up a little disappointed, especially after seeing a band of film critics whose opinions I trust give this great scores (8/10’s and above). This isn’t to say I expected this to be fantastic because of those scores, but it ended up being the push I needed to finally give this film its long-awaited viewing. Its positives outweigh its negatives, if the previous couple sentences gave you the impression of overall dismay. I simply expected that same romantic luster that expressed itself to the critics who found a home within the suitable nature of the film; I’m a romantic, too, after all. Cracks began to show upon one nagging issue.
And it seems I’m running out of time for today. While I’d like to explain in detail, I’ll have to pick up the pace.
There’re two dimensions to this film: reality and fantasy. Gil’s reality is that he’s in Paris with a demon (more on that soon) and her equally-demonic family. His fantasy is that, at midnight, he’s whisked away to the 1920’s, his “Golden Age” era where he reaps most of his inspiration for a novel he’s writing. He meets legendary artistic figures in F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, among others. He’s happy in this world, and becomes inspired more than his current reality presents. And why would it? He’s engaged to a horrible person, the biggest of this film’s problems.
It feels too straightforward. Reality bad, fantasy good. Romantic good, practical bad. Gil is engaged to someone who isn’t really a person as much as she is an obvious state of things to come. Everything about his reality is mean-spirited and downright cruel, while in his fantasy world everyone is intelligent, interesting, and supportive. I could understand a fantasy being good, but a reality where it’s the complete opposite, where the person who supposedly loves him enough to be engaged to him shuts him down at every opportunity? Okay, film.
It’s a little too eager to indulge in the fantasy, which feels a tad pretentious to me. The entire structure feels the same way, which affects what it ultimately means to me as a viewer. It’s not as magic as it wants to be, nor does it achieve at being insightful (save a scene within the last ten minutes). It feels more like Woody Allen being within the shoes of Gil at the beginning, struggling to find the balance of artistic inspiration and straightforward, ahem, “pedanticism.” But hey, Owen Wilson’s pretty good! And it made me think Paris was pretty cool!
Final Score: 6/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
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