“He romanticized it all out of proportion.” That should be the line on Woody Allen’s tombstone, and not just cause it’s from his best film ever, but because it’s true of everything true he’s done. Every place he’s touched. New York, London, Venice, Barcelona, Paris: everywhere, eternally, Woody plays the tourist. He never gets comfortable. Never stops wondering around all slack-jawed and befuddled by architecture, never takes the weather for granted. Woody Allen doesn’t see cities. He paints them.
Of course he’ll never paint anywhere half so beautifully as Manhattan and really he’s no Picasso, in terms of late-period worthwhileness. People used to go see Woody Allen movies hoping for brilliance, and then they went hoping for respectability, and now they go hoping not to claw their own eyeballs out. Even the post-millennium Allen movies that aren’t terrible are only not-terrible as long as you don’t watch them in a double bill with pre-1990 Allens. I liked Match Point, but it’s to Crimes and Misdemeanours as Cruel Intentions 2 is to Cruel Intentions. And Vicky Christina Barcelona was a gem, until I went back and watched Hannah and Her Sisters (my personal favourite), and then it was like a rhinestone that had fallen out of a cheap bracelet at Claire’s Accessories.
As for You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, it’s so eyeball-clawingly bad that to compare it to an earlier Woody Allen movie, even a movie like Everyone Says I Love You, is just like offensive.
So let’s say that Woody Allen knows his movies now are bad. No, I’m kidding, he has no idea, but let’s say he knows you think they’re bad, and he thinks he knows why. It’s nostalgia. It’s golden-age thinking. Pure, simple. Everything was better before we born, no matter when we were born.
In terms of when I was born, 1985, this is especially true of Woody Allen movies and downtown New York.
And in terms of when Woody Allen was born, so, 1935, this is super-true of Paris.
That’s why Midnight in Paris is so good. It’s nostalgic about nostalgia; I can tell you that without ruining it for you, in case you’re waiting for Cheap Tuesday to see it or something. It romanticizes 1920s Paris—the biggest and best-loved cliche of the intelligentsia—all out of proportion. I can tell you that. I mean, the cafés, the rainy walks, the Left Bank? Does anyone actually live on the Left Bank? The film is ridiculous. It’s delightful. It’s like eating a multi-layered dessert consisting only of the crackling tops of crème brûlée and the foamy lids of cappuccinos.
And though it’s not as “good,” although it’s too happy, though it has an into-the-sunset, ever-after ending you can see from the beginning, the way Owen Wilson-as-Woody says you can see the lights of La Ville Lumière from space, it made me understand all of the “better,” sadder, more complicated Allens that came before. All of Woody’s worrying and depressing and fretting about death, it was all just because he loved living so much. It’s so obvious. But I’m only seeing it now and thinking a tourist isn’t the worst thing you can be, after all.