This past weekend, My Beautiful Wife and I saw Midnight in Paris, a Woody Allen comic fantasy in which a young(ish) writer is transported back in time to Paris in the 1920s, when expatriate artists ruled the world (or, at least, the cafes). It was a film made for me. Since we returned from Europe, I’ve been dreaming about Paris. I just finished reading Tender is the Night, and am in the middle of Erik Larson’s thrilling In the Garden of Beasts. I’ve also been reading Clive James’s amazing book of essays, Cultural Amnesia, in which the salons and intellectual life in Europe between the wars feature prominently. I could not have been more ready to love this movie.
I hated it.
I didn’t really hate it. I didn’t work up enough energy to hate it. I simply found it boring. In the first five minutes, you know exactly how Midnight in Paris will end. (Let’s see if you can figure it out: writer guy loves Paris and the life of the mind; his strident, materialistic fiance and her bourgeois parents hate Paris and can’t wait to get home to America.) Yes, it’s a sort of romantic comedy, and we usually know how those will end–how we get to the end provides all the fun. But Midnight in Paris walks a narrow and unsurprising path all the way there. There’s little tension, because there’s nothing important at stake.
The film has gotten great reviews. I guess audiences and critics are enchanted by seeing the past come to life. I didn’t buy it. The film was a real garden filled with imaginary toads, none of whom was surprising. Dali was zany! Hemingway was
direct! Toulouse-Lautrec was small! Scott and Zelda were fabulous and fragile! Midnight in Paris is a one-note song. You might say, “yes, but it’s a Cole Porter song.” But I would remind you that Cole Porter never wrote a one-note song.
My disappointment with the film got me thinking about the importance of great storytelling. I can get behind frothy entertainment, but if there’s not a riveting story at its heart, it falls flat for me. I didn’t go to the movies this weekend expecting great art–but I was already in love with Paris, and I wanted to fall in love with the characters. Didn’t happen. To call the characters “cartoonish” would be an insult to cartoons.
You certainly don’t need a two-hour film or a 400-page novel to tell a great story. Advertisers do it all the time. Consider this classic from Canadian Tire in the 1980s. (I know I’ve posted this before–but it’s worth watching again.)
[iframe: width=”425″ height=”349″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/PJlOoqCoYpk” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe]
This spot is nearly 25 years old. It also tells a story from a different time. But this story is universal. It’s beautiful, lyrical, passionate, beautifully paced. The emotional stakes are high. It has humor; yet, it’s calculated to bring a tear to your eye.
Marketers: please note that it also leaves you feeling great goodwill for Canadian Tire without ever mentioning convenience, selection, quality, or low-low price.
And it does it all in sixty seconds. You could watch this spot hundreds of times while you watched Midnight in Paris once, and it would be better every time.