Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ flatters France, batters U.S.

Revived auteur’s sleeper hit feeds negative stereotypes of Americans

Owen Wilson and Carla Bruni star in writer-director Woody Allen's latest film, "Midnight in Paris." The 75-year-old auteur has strung together a slew of modest successes after disappearing from the industry spotlight for several years.Owen Wilson and Carla Bruni star in writer-director Woody Allen’s latest film, “Midnight in Paris.” The 75-year-old auteur has strung together a slew of modest successes after disappearing from the industry spotlight for several years.
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Look out X-Men, karate-chopping pandas and the gang from “The Hangover.” A neurotic auteur has you in his bespectacled sights.

Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” beat those summer blockbusters last weekend to up its box office tally to more than $34 million domestically.

Building on the momentum generated by a string of small successes shot in an array of sumptuous European settings, the once-marginalized 75-year-old filmmaker now finds himself an industry player again.

n finding artistic and commercial renewal across the pond, Mr. Allen often has flattered European vanities by ogling the sights of their storied capitals with his camera. Unfortunately, in “Midnight,” he also has pandered to European stereotypes of the Ugly American.

The box office total for “Midnight” is already Mr. Allen’s best showing stateside since 1986’s “Hannah and Her Sisters.” And don’t imagine his new sleeper hit got much help from an industry that had pretty much given up on his box office potential. “Paris,” which opened in limited theaters May 20, was shown on only 1,038 screens nationwide at its peak, roughly a third of what blockbuster-style movies receive.

The cross-cultural comedy concerns a burned out Hollywood screenwriter named Gil (Owen Wilson) who hopes a trip to France will inspire him to finish his novel. Gil fantasizes about Paris in the 1920s, a time when artistic giants such as Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter and F. Scott Fitzgerald roamed its streets.

One mysterious car ride later, Gil finds himself magically transported back to the Lost Generation golden age of his daydreams.

“Midnight in Paris” taps into a timeless American attraction to the City of Light as a cultural beacon, a place even ordinary artists can visit and emerge reborn. Throughout the film, Mr. Allen treats the city’s creative minds, native and transient alike, as intellectual titans.

Yet, in paying tribute to the artistic and historical glories of Paris, Mr. Allen gratuitously sneers at his own country. Mr. Wilson’s character is engaged to a shallow, materialistic American played by Rachel McAdams, a shrew whose parents are even more distasteful to Mr. Allen.

They belong to the tea party, for crying out loud.

“Paris” is a kind of culmination of the artistic resurgence Mr. Allen has been enjoying since turning to the urban jewels of Europe for his cinematic settings.

The Oscar-winning director first resuscitated his career by leaving his beloved Manhattan for London to shoot 2005’s “Match Point,” a suspenseful morality tale that fans and critics alike dubbed his best work in ages.

His European film vacation also improved his domestic box office fortunes. Compare the grosses of his last three films before going abroad — “Melinda and Melinda” ($3.8 million), “Anything Else” ($3 million) and “Hollywood Ending” ($4.8 million) — to Europe-based “Match Point” ($23 million), “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” ($23 million) and “Scoop” ($10 million).

His foreign fans have welcomed him with outstretched arms. “Paris” has scooped up $27.6 million in total foreign sales so far, and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” — which made the most of its Barcelona locations — hauled in a whopping $73 million in overseas ticket sales.

Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo, says “Paris” is giving adult audiences a true alternative to glossy features such as “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” But “Paris” likely won’t end up as Mr. Allen’s most attended film.

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