“Midnight in Paris” and the gay old 1920s


In my experience, you either love Woody Allen or you hate him. I know his movies can be hit or miss (misses: Whatever Works, Melinda and Melinda, Anything Else) but the good that comes out of the director tends to outweigh the bad for me. Starting with Meryl Streep as his ex-wife turned lesbian in Manhattan.

OK, the rest of the film was a little creepy with Woody casting himself as the romantic lead who bedded the way-too-young Mariel Hemingway, but ultimately I liked his love letter to the city. And Meryl Streep.

Annie Hall made Diane Keaton a menswear/lesbian fashion icon (for better or for worse), and Vicky Cristina Barcelona was so good I didn’t mind that the Scarlett Johansson/Penelope Cruz makeout scene was way too short for my liking.

Could have been longer

I enjoy Allen’s love of beautiful, smart and talented women. His bevy of beauties includes more A-Listers than you could count on your fingers and toes. So they must like him, too, and that means I’m in good company. (It’s you and me, side by side at the theater, Ellen Page. She’s in his next film, Bop Decameron.) I also love his self-deprecating protagonists, the struggles they face in each film, and the cities he uses as his settings.

Last night I saw his new movie, Midnight in Paris. In it, Owen Wilson plays Gil, a Hollywood script re-writer who longs to become a novelist. He’s on vacation in Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her uptight parents. Inez is Regina George as a grown-up — a materialistic, selfish bitch who is more interested in $20,000 beach chairs for the Malibu home they have yet to purchase than Gil’s happiness.

These chairs are worth more than your happiness

Here’s where it gets fun/interesting: Every night at midnight, Gil is able to travel back to Paris in the 1920s. It’s his idea of the golden age — the time he was meant to live in, to be among artists and writers and other creative minds. He meets Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Allison Pill is marvelous as the enigmatic Southern belle Zelda), Pablo Picasso, T.S. Elliott and many, many more.

Hemingway introduces Gil to Gertrude Stein at her home with her lover Alice. (Gertie is played by Kathy Bates, who is almost a little too recognizable as Kathy Bates.) But to see her famous Paris home, where so many salons and dinners and conversations had been held, recreated was pretty cool for this lesbian.

I’ve often felt that I should have lived in Paris in the 1920s. I’m kind of obsessed with reading biographies and memoirs of the queer women who lived and loved during that period, including Gertrude and Alice, Natalie Barney, Romaine Brooks, Dolly Wilde, Radclyffe Hall and Djuna Barnes, who made a brief appearance in the film for this fleeting joke: Gil, after dancing with a woman: “That was Djuna Barnes? No wonder she wanted to lead!”

Because it’s a movie (and a Woody Allen movie, at that) Gil learns a lesson at the end, and that lesson is that, no matter what age you are from, you will always wish you’d lived in the past. You’ll romanticize it endlessly, refusing to believe that it actually might have sucked to live in the 1920s because your lover was your “roommate” and you had to wait days — maybe even weeks — to receive correspondence from people because computers — much less e-mail — were decades away from invention.

OK, Woody Allen, I get it. I’m meant to live in the here and now and worship all the women who lived freely in gay old Paris, drinking and writing and entertaining many lovers within one friendship circle. It doesn’t sound all too different from today, though I would love a time portal to be able to go and hang at Gertie and Alice’s whenever I get nostalgic for time gone by.