Title: Midnight in Paris
Writer-director: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Corey Stoll, Carla Bruni, Adrien Brody, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, and into the 1990s, few filmmakers captured New York City as lovingly as Woody Allen. The writer-director’s move across the pond to Europe, however, which began with 2005’s “Match Point”, has served him well, seemingly rejuvenating his creative spirits and resulting in a string of mostly engaging films. A charming, whimsical and beautifully shot romantic comedy, and a big rebound from last year’s disappointing “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”, “Midnight in Paris” is one of Allen’s top efforts of the new millennium, and a strong contender for an Academy Award Best Screenplay nod, which would be his 15th such nomination.
The story centers on a present-day American couple visiting Paris. Gil (Owen Wilson) is a hack Hollywood screenwriter who still harbors a wish that he’d given honest literature more of a try, and so is working on a novel. His fiancee is Inez (Rachel McAdams), and before a return to their Stateside wedding they’re enjoying some time relaxing with Inez’s parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). The couple-to-be also meet up with a pedantic visiting professor and old friend of Inez’s, Paul (Michael Sheen), and while that duo reconnect a distracted Gil walks the streets of the City of Lights one night, where he improbably finds himself sucked back into 1920s Paris. There, he meets and drinks with a variety of his literary idols, including Ernest Hemingway (a captivating Corey Stall) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), and falls sway to Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a muse seemingly passed from famous artist to famous artist.
Bewildered and enthralled, Gil tries to take Inez back to the identical spot the next evening, but the same opportunity doesn’t present itself with her around. Later, when it does, Gil learns the loose, stroke-of-midnight rule of this location-specific portal, and continues going back night after night, seeking advice on his novel and possibly falling for Adriana. Back in the present day, meanwhile, Gil’s absentmindedness exacerbates tensions with Inez, who also seems to be more and more enjoying the company of Paul. Against this backdrop, Allen sketches out a roundelay that tackles with warmth and a playful intelligence the gulf between heart and head in matters of nostalgia and love.
The performances here are almost all memorably superb. Wilson, in the past, has evidenced a tendency to lean too heavily on his abundant, shaggy-dog charisma, and while that’s still the chief color in which he’s trading here, it’s also tempered with a nice pinch of wistfulness, which makes Gil’s romantic yearnings for days gone by seem real, and informed by both the successes and failures of a professional career that we never actually see on screen. Stoll, meanwhile, is a force of personality as Hemingway. He has a meaty part, obviously, but captures both the legendary author’s formidable intelligence and brawny disregard for niceties. Cotillard, as lovely as ever, also gives a fine performance, in a role that grows to parallel Gil’s as that of a sort of out-of-time cosmonaut.
One must submit to relaxed rhythms of “Midnight in Paris”, which definitely echoes back some to Allen’s own “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, but that’s not at all a difficult task. Cinematographer Darius Khondji’s butterscotch hues wrap viewers in a warm embrace, and Allen highlights Paris’ beauty without turning his film into a gaudy travelogue. Most winning of all, however, is the movie’s special, psychologically intoxicating blend of amusing, speculative cultural asides (aided by some delicious supporting character work) with playful, more universal ruminations on time, space, yearning and human feeling. Allen makes audiences’ hearts sing for other eras, while also being thankful they still live in their own.
Written by: Brent Simon