I prefer to go into films blind—knowing as little about the film as possible before viewing it—I want to take in the experience as the director intended. Often, trailers—and sometimes reviews—reveal too much about the film and dull the experience. Thankfully, the trailer for Midnight in Paris gives away nothing so I had no idea what I was in for, which made for a richer film-going experience. If you want the full surprise of Midnight in Paris, see it without any further information.
With that said, Midnight in Paris is about nostalgia. The longing we have for any golden age—as we’ve created them in our minds. Gil (Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood screenwriter working on his first novel. He’s joined his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her right-wing Republican parents, on a business trip to Paris, where they bump into Inez’s friend, Paul (Michael Sheen)—a pompus psudeo-intellectual—and his significant other, Carol (Nina Arianda).
While Inez is captivated by Paul’s “intellect”, Gil is captivated with Paris. Eventually Gil breaks free from the torture of being in Paul’s presence as Inez joins Paul and Carol for a night of dancing. After walking the streets at night seeking inspiration, Gil slouches on a set of stone steps. As the bell tolls twelve, Gil is greeted by an auto from the 1920s full of drinking passengers who encourage him to join them. Gil is then magically whisked away to Paris in the 1920s—a time that Gil believes to be the golden age of Paris—where he meets several icons from the era, including, Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), his wife Zelda (Alison Pill), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody). There’s even a cameo by Carla Bruni—the First Lady of the French Republic—as a museum guide. The characters are wonderfully portrayed and Allen adds an element of humor by writing them as we imagine them, not necessarily how they were—with the exception of Dali, who even Allen admits was every bit a crazy as he is in the film.
Woody Allen made an exceptional casting choice with Owen Wilson. There’s an underlying melancholy to him that is only hinted at in his other work, but comes out here in a way that only Allen’s neurotic prose can do. There’s not question that Gil is an Allen surrogate, but Wilson adds a layer of charm and optimism to the negative realism so common to Allen’s lead characters.
As I’ve watched Allen’s films and read interviews, I’ve learned that Allen takes a hands-off approach and allows his actors to act within their environment. This has paid off well in the past and it pays off here. There is no better cast forMidnight in Paris. Michael Sheen is quickly becoming a favorite actor of mine and Rachel McAdams is growing on me as well (her acting isn’t the only thing that shines in Midnight in Paris as Allen’s camera isn’t shy about guiding our eyes toward Ms. McAdams’ derrière in several scenes).
Midnight in Paris asks, “Is there really a golden age?” Woody Allen pointed out in a recent interview that while you may want to go back to Paris in the 1920s and have lunch, you wouldn’t want to go to the dentist. And that’s the key to any golden age—we remember the great things to come out of that era, while we conveniently set aside the negatives. The easiest way to see this is to look at your own childhood. Many people I know say they miss their childhood and they’ll go on and on about how much better things were. Well, guess again. Really think about your childhood, it wasn’t all golden, I guarantee it. Would I want to go back and revisit my childhood? You bet! But I’d want to come right back after a few rounds of Super Mario Bros. and watching Spaceballs (1987) with my cousin.
The more you know about art and literature from the 1920s, the more you’ll enjoy Midnight in Paris and the more you’ll get the jokes. One critic rightly called it Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) for liberal arts majors. That’s probably the best description anyone could give. Woody Allen did what all filmmakers claim they do, he made a film that is for himself and a small cross-section of the movie going public. In doing so, Allen has made a wonderful film that resonates with an audience that often gets the shaft by the summer blockbusters.
Midnight is Paris is not for everyone, but if it’s for you, it’s a great time at the movies where you can kick back and dive into your own golden age of the cinema. It is released in the UK 7th October 2011.
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill
Runtime: 94 minutes