Michaele Jordan‘s novel, Blade Light, is a charming traditional fantasy that was serialized in Jim Baen’s Universe and is now available as an ebook at Amazon or at iBooks. Her newest novel, Mirror Maze, is available now.
Spoiler Alert! Nebula nominee Midnight in Paris is about a Hollywood screenwriter who time-travels to the glamorous Paris of the 1920’s. That’s a spoiler because that’s as far as the SF/F angle-or the plot-goes. Man visits past. Story over. I came away wishing I could travel back to when Woody Allen was witty and original.
The film is elegantly mounted, with excellent performances and crisp dialog. It contains the obligatory moral point about the importance of real love. The critics liked it and it won an Oscar for the screenplay. But there was nothing in it I hadn’t already seen. It was amusing to see big, goofy Midwestern Owen Wilson channeling a shrimpy New Yorker (Gil is supposedly from Pasadena, but he’s really the Woody Allen stand-in) but, since I’ve seen this character in all Woody Allen’s other movies, I was mostly just relieved that Allen hadn’t tried to play the part himself. Remember Jade Scorpion? Ouch!
All other characters are stereotypes-well-crafted and cleverly drawn-but stereotypes: the shallow fiancée, her vapid, grasping parents, the pompous pseudo-intellectual. They might as well have signs around their necks, “Despise me!” And not just the villains. The literati that populate 1920’s Paris-Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso, etc-are text book images, so much so that I was halfway through the movie before I grasped they were not intended as parodies.
The point is explicitly made that nostalgia is untrustworthy and “golden age syndrome” is a form of denial. Yet somehow, Allen doesn’t seem to believe it. The whole film seems to share Gil’s conviction that 1920’s Paris was better than the now. His present day fiancée is presented as unworthy because she doesn’t want to lose the wealth and comfort to which she (and Gil!) are long accustomed. But the spending habits of Scott and Zelda are just the natural exuberance of the gifted.
Gil’s fiancée’s father is a boor, but somehow Ernest Hemingway is not. When Gil’s fiancée cheats it’s immoral, but Adriana, mistress of Picasso (and Hemingway and a long list of other famous names) is simply too glamorous to be confined to ordinary standards.
The time travel never made sense. Yes, I know, time travel never really makes sense, but if you’re going to write a story about it, it should at least make internal sense. Here, it just sort of happens. The clock strikes midnight and an antique car drives by. There’s no reason why this should happen now instead of last year, or to Gil instead of the corner grocer, or at this church instead of one on the Left Bank.
The car is not a special vehicle. It’s just an ordinary car in its own time, which the partygoers inside it have never left. If you happen to catch a ride with them, then you are there with them until you walk away, and then you’re not. Unless, of course, you decide to stay. Or get stuck there.
But far more than the lack of mechanism, what makes the time travel peculiar is that no one sees it as peculiar. Gil never wonders if he’s dreaming or hallucinating; he doesn’t even express a mild curiosity about it. It never occurs to him that he might have trouble making it happen again; he takes his fiancée along the next night to show her. (Of course, she got bored with waiting and left just before the car arrived. Wow, bet you didn’t see that coming!) Why wouldn’t a car from the past show up again?
Don’t even try to understand about Adriana’s diary. It’s a temporal red-herring, an artifact left from the 1920’s by a woman who was not in the 1920’s (since she, too, time-traveled backward) included solely to prove to the audience (just the audience-no one in the movie cares) that Gil is not dreaming or hallucinating. All in all, Sleeper made more sense.
Aside from the time travel, the story is a paint-by-numbers romantic comedy. It is not a spoiler to tell you that Gil discovers his fiancée is not the woman for him. That was telegraphed the minute Rachel McAdams walked onto the screen. And as soon as Léa Seydoux appears, you know who is going to end up walking in the rain with Gil; it’s so obvious that she doesn’t even get a front page credit.
Of course, one doesn’t expect surprises in romantic comedy, which is good because there aren’t any. But I do expect surprises in SF/F and-heavy, heartfelt sigh -I used to expect them of Woody Allen. It is not, I suppose, that Midnight in Paris is a bad movie. It is just profoundly ordinary.