Midnight in Paris
Even though he only bats about .300 these days (good in baseball, not so good in Hollywood), what continues to amaze me most about Allen is his ability to churn out story after story, year after year, without any of them feeling like a rehash of his past successes. Midnight in Paris feels like classic Woody Allen, yet still fresh and modern.
Midnight in Paris begins with a montage of Parisian streets and landmarks, if for no other reason than to reinforce the city’s beauty and provide reference for Owen Wilson’s opening voiceover where he fantasizes about living in the 1920s when all the great artists would escape to Paris for inspiration. Wilson plays Gil, a hack Hollywood screenwriter trying his hand at a novel when he takes a vacation to Paris with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams).
Gil and Inez often find themselves accompanied by the smug Paul (Michael Sheen), an expert-on-everything one-upper who feels compelled to correct even the tour guide on her art history. The fact that Inez actually enjoys his company says a lot about her superficiality. Gil, on the other hand isn’t buying Paul’s act and opts to wander off on his own while Inez and Paul dance the night away. One night, when the clock strikes twelve, Gil is mysteriously swept away into another time and begins meeting folks with names like Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso.
Gil escapes to meet up with this troupe every night and eventually catches the eye of the beautiful Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a muse of sorts for a number of great artists. The real crowd pleasers of these flashback/fantasy scenes are Corey Stoll as the blunt and rowdy Hemingway and Adrien Brody as a certain rhinoceros-fixated surrealist filmmaker. These scenes are funny and alive with energy, even if it takes a degree in literature or art history to understand some of the jokes.
One clearly frustrated girl sitting near me kept responding “what did they say? who’s that?” every time a new character was introduced. Don’t worry about it. Just go along for the ride and enjoy the marvelous storytelling. Allen gives us enough information to understand these historic characters even if you aren’t familiar with all of their names. Allen’s film is surprisingly unpretentious in that way, leaving itself open for everyone to enjoy.
While the film gets labeled as a “romantic comedy,” the real love affair is between Gil and this city and “golden age” he has always dreamed about. The film’s theme of living “in the now” and enjoying the present can be seen from the film’s onset so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by mentioning it here, but I also wondered if Woody Allen might be sending a message to his critics who continue to compare his newer films to his classic works. I’ll try to resist that temptation, but I will say that Midnight in Paris is his best film since Match Point (2005) and his best comedy since Mighty Aphrodite (1995).