Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Old-fashioned theatrical longevity

On the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, I saw The Tree of Life. Today, on the Monday of Labor Day weekend, I saw Circumstance.

Both films were playing at the Landmark on Pico. And when I saw both films, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris was also playing at the Landmark.

It's exceptionally rare in the DVD era that a movie plays in theaters longer than six weeks. Two months is almost unheard of.

If Midnight in Paris hangs around another couple weeks at the Landmark, it'll hit the four-month mark.

And there's every reason to think it might, since it hasn't yet been relegated to one of the Landmark's couch theaters, which have only a 20-30 seat capacity. (Which is, in fact, where I saw Circumstance -- a mere 10 days into its theatrical run, by contrast.) In fact, Midnight only has to play there for 15 more days, since I'm going to assume it starting playing at the Landmark on the date of its release: May 20th.

Four months. It's mind-boggling, isn't it? As dozens of other films have come and gone from the Landmark, Allen's latest has bookended the entire summer, and seems ready to stretch on into the fall.

It was about halfway between May 20th and today that I saw the film myself at the Landmark, on July 9th. I was supposed to see Beginners that day, but got the time wrong and saw Midnight instead. Which was just as well, because I'd heard great things. Even then I counted myself lucky that I hadn't already missed it, remembering even then that it had already been playing for six weeks. Who'd have thought, two months later, it would still be selling enough tickets to justify a continued booking?

Much has been made about how this, Allen's fortysomethingth feature as a director, has been his highest grossing. To most critics, the box office (and likewise, the continued theatrical engagement) is justified by the quality of the film.

However, I have to say I think the excessive praise is somewhat misdirected.

Now, before you go jumping down my throat, hear me out. There are many things about the film that are delightful. The concept is fun, and the scenery of Paris is of course beautiful. The opening montage of famous Parisian sites -- obviously modeled after the similar sequence that opens Allen's Manhattan -- is breathtaking poetry.

But as fun as the concept is, there's something about it that's a bit hammy. The sheer number of luminaries Gil (Owen Wilson) runs into during his motorcar ride back to the 1920s is so great, it rivals Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure in terms of sheer plausibility. Okay, the great writers and artists he meets were there at the same time and did run in the same circles, but it still feels a gimmicky. I also think it feels like a case of Allen showing off his intellect. Or maybe it just shamed me into wishing I knew more about those luminaries than I actually do.

Like I said, though, that concept is fun and I will forgive any number of little shortcomings in its execution. My real problem with Midnight in Paris -- insofar as it's accurate to say I had a "problem" with it -- was the uncharitable characterization of Gil's fiancee and her family. Now, I'm as anti-conservative and anti-"dumb American" as the next person, but this was just over the top. I understand Allen portraying the parents of his fiancee as clueless, culture-less snobs, who seem to hate Paris because it's not American enough, but the fiancee as well? It's unclear why Gil would have ever been engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams) in the first place, they have such different goals and needs. Not only is it a shame for Allen to waste the wonderful McAdams in the role of a shrew, but by making her everything he detests, he's implicitly telling us how great he is -- because, as is always the case in Allen films, the male protagonist is a stand-in for himself.

However, I'm not really here today to tell you why I think Allen's made at least two better films in the last five years alone (and won't name those films here, to avoid digging myself a deeper hole). Really, I'm just amazed at the staying power of Midnight in Paris, the likes of which I have not seen since Titanic.

And if we Americans -- or, at least, we Angelenos -- can support a little film like this for that long, it speaks very well of us. It means we're not the cruel caricatures of Americans (and of Angelenos) that Allen rails against in his film.

Now, to brush up on the works of Gertrude Stein and Man Ray ...


Mike Lippert said...

"I also think it feels like a case of Allen showing off his intellect."

I couldn't agree less, I was familiar, to different extents, every person Gil meets in Paris and was so happy to find Allen has made a movie for someone like myslf without pandering to a larger demographic as typical American movies would.

Vancetastic said...

"Or maybe it just shamed me into wishing I knew more about those luminaries than I actually do."