The kind of marvelous Woody Allen movie we thought we’d never see again. Midnight in Paris is not only marvelous but magical, embracing a luminous feel for Paris as well as an entrancing cast of characters. The kind of shimmering wit we associated with Allen long ago has now returned, and you might ask is that possible? It’s possible, and it is realized and done. I doubt that any true fan of his work wouldn’t by the end consider it one of the ten best of his career. Owen Wilson is the perfect stand-in for an Allen protagonist, he is able to sound as if he is own person and not an Allen carbon copy. Perhaps Allen saw something in Wilson from his Wes Anderson days of “Bottle Rocket” (1996) and “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001).
Opening with a montage of Parisian city life, it’s an ode to a sparkling city in the same way that he opened his renowned classic “Manhattan” (1979). Allen’s singular view of Paris makes it appear classy and appealing in a way that the city actually is not anymore – if you’ve been there like me, you would know it’s been overrun by tourist clutter, traffic gridlocks and rude taxi drivers. When Allen takes his hero Gil Pender (Wilson) to the artist besotted 1920’s past, you likely will feel wonderment over the set decoration and costumes that you might have admired so fluidly during his similar period setting of “Bullets Over Broadway” (1994). It just looks fantastic, actually, drooling kind of fantastic. Behind the camera, Allen is a smooth, relaxed craftsman. That breezy mood of his hasn’t changed, and here, it’s for the better.
Every character is, at the very least, interesting or root-worthy. Gil is a bankable Hollywood screenwriter successful enough to afford premier real estate in Malibu, California. He is on vacation in Paris with his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams, tops at playing narcissistic @#!*% -princesses) as well as her parents. They meet up with pseudo-intellectual Paul (Michael Sheen, proving on-screen versatility once again) and his girlfriend Carol (Nina Arianda). Gil finds Paul pedantic when it comes to art criticism and architectural monuments, but on a more uncomfortably tangible level, gets an unwanted feeling that he is being pandered to. Inez wants to plan her days around not just Paul, but any other person but Gil.
Gil begins taking midnight strolls, and this is the part of the story where the Allen imagination bursts wide open. Spoiler Alert (If you’re convinced by now to go without hesitation, then read no further). Gil gets into an old-fashioned Peugeot on a whim and finds himself transported back to the 1920’s. After the smack of recognition where he is, he becomes this modern day visitor who pretends to fit into the time. Allen’s characters don’t play stupid for any longer than they have to, and Gil is no exception.
He is flabbergasted when he meets F. Scott Fitzgerald and his flame Zelda (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), Cole Porter (Yves Heck), and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll). He also has run-ins with Josephine Baker (Sonia Rolland), Alice B. Toklas (Therese Bourou-Rubinsztein), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), T.S. Eliot (David Lowe), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), and many more. I was most smitten by the portrayals of Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) and Luis Buñuel (Adrien de Van), the latter whom looks so uncannily like Buñuel that it threw me for a wallop. But Gil’s object of attainment becomes Adriana (Marion Cotillard of “Inception,” “La Vie En Rose”), who is for the time being Picasso’s mistress.
Now, you might feel shut out that you don’t exactly know many of these epochal icons. Well, I didn’t know more than 90% of the references in “Annie Hall” (1977) the first time I saw it, but I listened and later picked up on them – it became one of the reasons why that film, a rare Oscar winner for Best Picture, has endured in repeat viewings over the years. “Midnight in Paris” shares more in common with “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985) where Jeff Daniels is a 1930’s film actor who walks out of the celluloid and into the real world. In case you were inquiring about the Buñuel and Gil scene though, I’ll tell you. Gil elects Buñuel to make a dinner party satire that will eventually become “The Exterminating Angel” (1962).
In the time spent in the Paris twilight, Gil has Gertrude Stein read his novel manuscript which she observes has potential and provides him with astute advice. He also becomes aware that his chemistry is deeper and more truthful with Adriana than with his fiancée Inez of the real world. Hemingway seems to pontificate at first, until you realize that he has the sagest advice on bravery, on the preparation of the artist, and on living resolute on passion. “Bravery” is Hemingway’s choice word. Gil becomes brave when he figures out how he is going to live exceptionally in his real life. Not to just create on page but how to create the foundations of his own life. Owen Wilson makes Gil the happiest Woody Allen character that we’ve seen in ages, and he loves Paris and the women in it. “Midnight in Paris” is a work of love, wit and beauty.
94 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
COMEDY / ENCHANTING FANTASY / MASTERPIECE VIEWING FOR ANYTIME
Film Cousins: “Sherlock Jr.” (1924); “Annie Hall” (1977); “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985); “Bullets Over Broadway” (1994).