MINOR SPOILER WARNING
I’ve been trying to think of how to best write about this film to make clear exactly what kind of fantasy film it is, but I’m having a hard time explaining with words (or even examples) what I feel to be distinct dichotomies and spectra. What I can say clearly is what Midnight in Paris is like and what it is not like, as far as fantasy goes.
This isn’t a film about fantasy worlds or mythological creatures that use elements of high fantasy or fairy tales to conjure up a sense that the protagonist has found something “special” from another world. It’s more like any given movie about talking animals (e.g. A Bug’s Life) in which we’re not inclined to think of the fantasy as fantasy, or even as part of some other world on another plane of existence. This is in part due to the fact that the kind of fantasy Midnight in Paris presents is in the vein of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis in that it offers no explanation for its fantasy. That being said, Midnight in Paris and Metamorphosis differ from most films that don’t explain their fantasy by telling stories about a fantastic event that happens to someone, as opposed to an experience with a fantastic thing, being, or world. Usually, I prefer fantasy stories that feel less random, that don’t prompt the viewer to ask what causes the magical occurrences, and that either put the protagonist in a fantasy world (see The Wizard of Oz) or otherwise engross the protagonist in fantasy elements (see Gremlins or Mary Poppins), but this movie somehow really works for me.
I think it works simply because it’s Woody Allen doing a very Woody Allen movie, in the best sense of the term. Sure, the look of the film is different from that of his previous work, but it’s still one of the best examples of his post-Annie Hall productions, featuring his trademark mix of heartwarming romance, nostalgia for the jazz age, and pessimism. He also shows off his dialogue skills at their finest, somehow writing dialogue for Jewish characters that translates naturally into other characters when in the hands of skilled (non-Jewish) actors – and surprisingly distinct characters at that. His best writing, however, is probably for the characters from the past – particularly for Hemingway – which is some of his funniest writing to date. This is not to discount the style, editing, and pacing, which are all perfectly fine, but they work because of how well they suit the writing. Of course, I’ve always felt that Allen’s biggest problem is his endings, but the ending of this film is one that seems to necessarily follow from all that has been set up throughout the story, and it ties everything together with a nice little bow.
It’s not a conventional romantic comedy – in fact, I almost hesitate to call it one at all with how far it strays from the usual form – but it’s satisfying enough that I keep recommending it to people who want a nice and easy introduction to Woody, because this film is just that.