Midnight in Paris and X-Men: First Class

Usually, I am able to crank out movie reviews with a machine-like regularity that is rivaled only by Hollywood’s ability to make sub-par sequels. For the past two weeks though, I’ve been having quite a bit of trouble writing reviews, and it’s not that I haven’t seen anything worth reviewing. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen two films I heartily recommend – Woody Allen’s new romantic comedy Midnight In Paris and the latest superhero spectacular X-Men: First Class. I really loved both films.

Midnight in Paris is delightful. I recommend going to see it knowing as little as possible about its plot. The film centers on Owen Wilson’s character’s idealizing of the past in lieu of the present. He longs to live in 1920s Paris and rub shoulders with Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, and Dali. The film’s plot affords him the opportunity to deal with his prejudice against his present.

Midnight In Paris, like so many of Woody Allen’s films, is an ecclesiastical parable about the importance of enjoying the life you live in the midst of its hardships. I found the film to be a surprising, funny, poignant, and an overwhelmingly joyful experience.

X-Men: First Class is everything I want a summer superhero movie to be. The story follows the founding of the famous mutant league by its leader, Professor X, and the maturing of their fiercest foe, Magneto. It is as much a spy or heist movie as it is a superhero flick. The actors embody their characters with conviction, but they never seem to take themselves too seriously as if they are performing Shakespeare.
First Class also wasn’t afraid to embrace the dilemma at the center of the mutants’ endless struggle – Can society accept someone different? Professor X maintains that different people can coexist; Magneto maintains they cannot. As I watched the film, I understood Magneto’s prejudice. Too often I’ve seen people hate people who are different than them. Too often I’ve hated others different than me. I want to believe, like Professor X, that mutual love is possible, and deep down I do, but so often I do not see it in action, in other’s lives and in mine.
So why have I been unable to review films for the past two weeks? I blame The Tree of Life. I was struck so personally by the film, I have trouble processing less impactful films like Midnight In Paris or X-Men: First Class. My review of The Tree of Life can be read elsewhere, so I won’t reiterate what I’ve already written there, but I would like, briefly, to examine how the film touched me so personally.

I saw my own story in Malick’s deeply personal reflection on his childhood. Like Jack O’Brien, the man at the center of the film, I too was the oldest of three brothers. Also like Jack, I have a younger brother who shares more visible interests with our father. I’ve felt the same sibling rivalry Jack remembers. I’ve wondered whom my father loves more. I’ve felt outside his affection because I do not have an inclination toward some of his interests. My father loves me, deeply, but that is something I had to learn and learn to accept just as Jack does in the film.

Other people I’ve talked with did not resonate with Jack’s journey as I did. That’s part of the wonderfulness of this film. It is layered and impressionistic which opens it up to multiple “readings.” It is not a perfect film by any means, but it is profound. Other movies seem lesser in comparison, and I have found myself less eager to engage with them.

That’s the trouble with developing a taste for better filmic fare – one loses a taste for less complex films. I wish it wasn’t that way, but I don’t see a way out of it. Engaging thoughtfully with anything develops one into a more discerning person. As I see and consider more films, I simultaneously like more and less of what I see. Three years ago I would not have been able to enjoy The Tree of Life. I hadn’t developed those aesthetic taste buds.

By the same token though, while I would have enjoyed X-Men: First Class more three years ago than I do now, I wouldn’t have been able to explain why. Though I notice more of the film’s imperfections, I also appreciate more of its finer points. I need to learn to be at peace with this. Like Owen Wilson’s character in Midnight In Paris, I need to learn to appreciate the good in the midst of the bad.

In conclusion, there are at least three excellent films in the theaters this weekend that you might choose to see. I can’t recommend Midnight In Paris, X-Men: First Class, or The Tree of Life enough.