Woody Allen’s magic returns in Midnight in Paris. A charming, erudite frolic through Paris and the heart of an idealistic Hollywood screenwriter, the film lightheartedly explores past and present.
Woody Allen’s best work yet
Midnight in Paris savors life and literature in the City of Light. Allen’s newest film looks and feels like Woody at his eternally searching, meditative best. Opening with shots of Paris by day and night, in sun and rain, he romances the vibrant hub of culture and romance.
Allen serves a visual and emotional feast as he did in Manhattan. He incorporates a hint of his legendary zaniness (Bananas, Sleeper) with mellow, “what if” curiosity.
Zany and less nervous
The director, 76, watches these characters fuss and fight with less anxiety and more insight, as if he’s been there, done that. He reimagines his best, creative work here.
As characters struggle inwardly and with one another, Midnight in Paris echoes The Purple Rose of Cairo with a nod to literature buffs.
Allen seems less neurotic and more trusting in his latest film, a delightful culmination of his prolific career so far. Allen has written and directed a movie a year for over 40 years.
Delightful surprises after the clock strikes twelve are best left for viewers to discover. Owen Wilson is Allen’s on-screen persona Gil Pender, a shambling, successful screenwriter who daydreams about finishing his novel, fleeing Malibu and moving to Paris.
“Paris in the spring in the rain!” is Gil’s refrain. “You’re in love with a fantasy,” carps his gold digger fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams).
Inez throws a fit
Inez and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) become more agitated as Gil grows more enchanted with Paris’ Golden Age, where “every street, every boulevard is its own art form.”
Marion Cotillard is perfect as earnest femme fatale Adriana who loves Paris as much as Gil does.
Gil follows his heart
It’s a career-changing role for Wilson (Wedding Crashers; The Royal Tenenbaums), who as artistic everyman is writing a novel set in a nostalgia shop. Gil explores the charisma of the past as he seeks to satisfy inner yearnings.
Meanwhile McAdams (The Notebook, Morning Glory) plays to the Woody Allen type of a shrill, controlling female.
Know-it-all intellectual Paul (Michael Sheen) flirts with Inez as he basks in her admiration. “Nostalgia is denial of a painful present,” he tells Gil.
The windbag has the gall to confront a museum guide (beautifully played by France’s first lady Carla Bruni) over Rodin’s love life.
Gems of performance
Fascinating actors contribute gems of performance as the story unfolds. Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill and Corey Stoll add delight.
Filled with memorable Allenisms, the film’s best one-liners include: “No subject is terrible if the story is true and if the prose is clean and honest.” “You’ll never write well if you fear dying.”
In an interview with LA Weekly, Allen spoke about some dialogue he wrote for this film, that the artist’s job is “to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”
“I don’t know if I believe that myself,” Allen said. “One could make a case for that – that the job of the artist is to show why life, despite all its horror and brutality, is worth living and is a valuable thing.”
You might argue that “it’s not the job of the artist to do anything at all — just to make the best art that he can, because art gives pleasure and pleasure gives distraction, and distraction is the only thing that gets us by, really,” he added.
Cinematographer Darius Khondji captures Paris’ romantic beauty. The finale unfolds on a stately bridge between past and present. (5 out of 5 stars)
If you like Midnight in Paris, you might enjoy: Barney’s Version.
Midnight in Paris 2011 / PG-13 / 1 hour, 34 min
Cast Overview: Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Owen Wilson, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Marcial Di Fonzo Bo, Corey Stoll, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Lea Seydoux
Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Romance