The Early, Funny Films

So we were watching Midnight in Paris last weekend, and—

Wait. Let’s set this up.

We’ve been angry — pissed — at Woody Allen for our entire adult life. Nothing to do with Mia or Soon-Yi — just a profound disappointment in his creative product. Manhattan ties with 2001 as our favorite film ever. Stardust Memories is the last Woody Allen film we thoroughly enjoyed — and still do.

And then he fell off a cliff.

What happened? Although he claims that Stardust wasn’t autobiographical, our take has always been that after putting his soul on the screen in all its rawness, Woody Allen withdrew into his shell, never to emerge again. He gave up on truth, and without truth, there is no comedy. Not a Woody Allen comedy, anyway.

So we’re watching Midnight in Paris, and all the anger wells up again. It’s not the whimsy — we’re cool with whimsy — but the supposed reality that goads us into a tomato-throwing mood. A wealthy novel-writer? With a Captain of Industry father-in-law? And whose literary heroes — whose only literary heroes — are the expat Parisian set?

Maybe in the Seventies. But no writer Owen Wilson’s age — b. 1968 — would walk around with that set of cultural references. (Dave Eggers dropped in 1970, for comparison.) Woody Allen may have gotten a lot of flack in his day for limiting his comedic world to the Upper East Side, but he knew that world.

And really, Midnight in Paris smells like a Manhattan-era Woody Allen movie, lurched out of its moment as readily as Owen Wilson’s faux-Woody character. It may have worked — at the time, when you could get still away with High Modernist references as the latest in intellectual fashion. As it stands, Woody Allen’s “present day” might as well include an Orgasmatron in one of those chichi Parisian cafés, it’s so removed from its source.

And there we might have left it, until Nerdist unearthed a mid-Sixties Woody Allen stand-up bit that’s obviously the germ of the film. There’s truth in that bit. Unlike the sequel.

13 Comments

I thought he was always autobiographical… this is why I care not for most of his movies.

As a kid/SF nerdling I was pissed because Annie Hall won the Oscar over Star Wars which was the greatest film of all time ever (not really.) After seeing Annie Hall much later in life (and suffering through the Ewoks and Star Wars Prequels), I can understand why even though it was a bit convoluted.

woody is the most prolific film maker of all time. his body of work is unequaled. a movie a year. that alone puts him in a category with no other nominees. so some were better than others. big deal.

take the money and run and zelig are my top woody allen films. virgil starkwell is so aptly named. only virgil would try to hold up a bank with a gub. leonard zelig is everyman, really.

Midnight in Paris was a waste of a lot of acting talent. The whole thing, reality and whimsy, was half-baked and cliched. Terrible.

I gave up on Woody after the Soon-Yi business but got talked into seeing Midnight, which I liked for the jokes. You understand a joke about Hemingway, say, and you feel sophisticated, you’re in with the in crowd. Plus popcorn.

But, on the other hand, nothing was blown up!

I really liked Midnight in Paris because, not in spite, of its implausibilities — the entire story is premised on time travel, for crying out loud!

Really Nojo, pissed at Woody your whole adult life? You graduated from high school 35 years ago. That’s nursing a grudge. Crimes and Misdemeanors came out in 1989. Did it piss you off? When did adulthood begin for you, forty-something?

I think Woody disappoints his fans because his great work has over-inflated their expectations. His subsequent mediocre output is disproportionately deemed more disappointing. I’ve only hated a few Woody movies. The fact that he’s made some of my favorites makes me forgive his flops.

I actually enjoyed Midnight in Paris, and my wife really liked it. And she hates Woody.

@Hank Hosfield: I was going to say “almost”, but then I double-checked: Stardust Memories came out in 1980, when we turned 21. It was followed by the suspiciously bland Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy in 1982.

Zelig (1983) is fine, Broadway Danny Rose (1984) isn’t, Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) has its moments. But my thoughts here really do date from 1982, when Midsummer gave me a Bad Feeling. Grudge, nursed.

He’s never been funny. Not a funny bone in his body. He is the antithesis of comedy. A gag mangler born in the right place and time who lucked into a career. He couldn’t be hired for the Daily Show these days. Which is not to say that he isn’t interesting. He’s an all-American prince who has spent every waking minute punishing us for not finding him attractive. Pretending to be an American Nabokov minus the rigor and talent. A detestable actor channeling Grant/Hepburn ripping off the Lunts. A man who gets his ill-fitting clothes custom made in Milan. A putz.

I adore Maureen O’Sullivan, a woman of intelligence, beauty, and charm. When I worked with her she made towards me the single most generous and imaginative act I’ve known in what passes for my career. A woman of singular charm and beauty who liked a martini or two, or three, or four – as who doesn’t? I adored her. Each of her daughters was more beautiful than the last who walked in the door. Mia Farrow was a most original movie star who grew into an international advocate for children’s rights. She is the real deal. I fed her lamb stew with rice and she ate hearty. Maureen told me that she saw the pictures and that they were detestable, vile, and flat out pron.

Mia said his work came easy. I would say that it looks it. She said that he spends a couple of hours a day confecting his confections which have the moral heft of Cat in the Hat minus the fun or moral rigor.

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