It’s Midnight in Paris, but is it sunset for Woody Allen’s career?


by Emily Searles

It seems that as of late, Woody Allen has been making movies for the sake of staying active and being productive. His latest, Midnight in Paris, opened Cannes this year to mixed reviews.  Instead of churning out films as though he is working on an assembly line, perhaps Mr. Allen should have rested a while and reflected before releasing his next picture to the public.  His previous film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, was one of the biggest disappoints of recent years.  Wearisome, drudging, opulent, and stereotypical, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger lacks depth.  While Mr. Allen is usually a terrific writer, nailing characters’ idiosyncrasies and communicating interesting ideas in witty conversations, he appeared to be at a loss for words in this film: the dialogue was forced, and the narration served no valuable purpose.

Most of Mr. Allen’s newer films, such as Scoop, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, and Whatever Works, are unoriginal stories that borrow ideas and re-use themes from his earlier movies.  Sandy’s loss of purpose and his search for meaning and love are what make Stardust Memories such a poignant work of art, but the same hunt for the meaning of life in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is confusing, hollow, and contrite.  Part of the blame for the film’s failure lies with its actors, who obviously struggled to follow Mr. Allen’s cues (he is notorious for not directing his actors).  But the writing itself is frustrating and unbelievable: characters yell at each other using perfect grammar and bumble about in clumsy silences.  Witty, rapid conversations in which dialogue is exchanged like lightning, and introspective and philosophical narration are some of Mr. Allen’s trademarks, but with his latest films, it appears that he has lost the ability to write convincingly.

Perhaps Mr. Allen’s infatuation with European cities has distracted him, and instead of focusing on character exposition and engaging stories, he tries to capture the allure of some of the most charming and illustrious locations in the world, neglecting his duties as writer.  London, Barcelona, and now Paris are the settings of his more recent movies.  They are beautiful and mysterious to the eyes of an unknowing American tourist, and Mr. Allen rejoices in the novelty of travel.  He glorifies Europe and writes his stories to accommodate his fascination with glamorous capitals.  Mr. Allen has left New York behind him: America is his past, Europe is his future.  But with the trans-Atlantic shift, he lost his gift for writing. Mr. Allen clearly knows New York like few others do:  he lives and breathes New York, and the city frequently becomes one of his characters.  The pace of the dialogue and narration of his later films would be more believable and sincere had they been spoken by New Yorkers in Manhattan.  He does not understand London in the same way, and consequently his English movies fall victim to his preconceived notions of Great Britain.  I am not suggesting that Mr. Allen write and film movies set only in New York, but to create an English Annie Hall or Manhattan requires him to truly know his new city, London; perhaps more time spent in the city would help his writing.

One can only hope that Woody Allen will rediscover his knack for writing and humour during his time spent in Europe.  If he is satisfied with stereotypically and superficially exploring his settings, then Mr. Allen ought to continue in the same vein.  His earlier films will live on and continue to impress audiences for years to come; however, I’m afraid their legacy may be tarnished by his recent, less-thoughtful filmmaking attempts.

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