Over the last few years, Woody Allen’s career has somewhat been uneven as his British-set films have made him a fish out of water, I was personally disappointed with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and his return to New York wasn’t all that funny with Whatever Works. However, he returns to Paris of which he previously explored ib Everyone Says I Love You, and has possibly made his best work in a long time.
During his visit in Paris with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and future in-laws for business, struggling Hollywood screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson) feels neglected by Inez and her botanic friends. During a midnight stroll through the city, he gets into a car and is mysteriously transported to the 1920s where he encounters famous artists and authors, and the romantic city he hoped for.
Whilst Everyone Says I Love You depicted the romanticness of Paris through song and dance, Midnight achieves this through fantasy (which is never explained) as well as its love of the period that Gil is fascinated with, and eventually enters. Although Gil has such a romanticise view, his American companions have such a modern view on everything which is understandable, but not to Gil. This is particularly shown through Inez’s over-insightful friend Paul, played by the always delightful Michael Sheen.
Whenever Gil goes back in time, this is when the film works best as the story becomes adventurous and inventive as he has conversations with the Fitzgeralds F. Scott and Zelda who are seen as young souls looking for a good time. Amongst his encounters, Gil has hilarious chats with the drunk auteur Ernest Hemingway and receiving writing tips from Gertrude Stein (a terrific extended cameo by Kathy Bates).
At the film’s heart, there is a moving love story between our hero and Adriana (Marion Cotillard), Pablo Picasso’s mistress. Although this tale reminds you of what Allen did so beautifully in the late 70s, a closer comparison would be Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Sunset, in which a romance is born out of typical conversations and walks through the city. Simple but touching!
To stay true to his protagonist’s perspective on Paris, Allen as director along with his cinematographer Darius Khondji presents a glowing picturesque view of the city as with the street lights at night, as well as the bars and clubs of that period where fashion played a big deal. While the film works when it centres on our central hero, there is an attempt that introducing other characters into this fantasy as there is an unnecessary subplot involving Inez’s father hiring a personal detective to uncover Gil’s midnight strolls.
Having seen Owen Wilson in a lot of mainstream schlock, he is doing something far more interesting than just being the beach-blonde dude in this. He plays the typical Woody Allen-ish role as he is somewhat anti-social towards people he is not interested in, and prefers being in his comfort zone, meaning the past. Whilst his modern compatriots are deliberately annoying, you just want to be in the company of these far more interesting figures from the past as everyone has their moment to shine.
Nostalgia plays a big part within the narrative of Midnight in Paris, which will not be for everyone, but it is charming, romantic and most importantly funny as you can get with the best of Allen’s work.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: WOODY ALLEN
STARRING: OWEN WILSON, RACHEL MCADAMS, MARION COTILLARD, MICHAEL SHEEN, CARLA BRUNI, KATHY BATES
RUNTIME: 94 MINS
COUNTRIES: USA, FRANCE