When reviewing Midnight in Paris, I noticed many have lump it in with some of Wood Allen’s more recent successes, such as Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona. Fine as those films are, I don’t think it’s fair that Midnight in Paris is being discussed alongside them. Midnight in Paris is a much better film and deserves to be discussed on its own.
Woody Allen’s latest is a wonderful love letter to Paris. The lovely opening montage captures the intoxicating allure of the city of love. Allen shows us Paris by day, where it’s all cafes and beautiful people smoking, Paris by night where it becomes a carnival of light and of course, Paris in the rain. As the montage fades to black and the opening credits appear, we hear Gil (Owen Wilson) gushing over Monet and the Parisian streets while his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) tries to get him to snap out of fantasy. Gil longs to move to Paris and become a novelist but Inez would rather he stop dreaming and continue to be a hack screenwriter in Hollywood. Throughout his career, Allen has always been interested in the notion of irony and here he plays with it again by having his couple slowly fall out of love in a city that’s synonymous with romance. Not only do they disagree on Paris, Gil and Inez can’t seem to agree on Paul (Michael Sheen), a friend of Inez who happens to be an expert in art, wine and dancing. Inez becomes more and more enthral by Paul’s tendency to pontificate on Rodin and Picasso while Gil finds it insufferable. On one faithful evening while Inez is out dancing with Paul, Gil wonders the Parisian streets alone when at the stroke of midnight a mysterious old-fashion taxi pulls in front of him and transport him back to the 1920s.
The array of famous or would be famous people that Gil encounters while in 1920s gives the film a light touch of fantasy that recalls Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. We get to see the infamous Fitzgeralds (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill) throw wild parties and a moody Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) getting drunk with a young Luis Buñuel (Adrien de Van), and those are only some of the famous characters that show up. With so many large personalities onscreen, Woody keeps the film moving along by keeping each character’s appearance brief. Most of time, they aren’t even full fledge characters but personas of famous artists, writers and filmmakers that we have come to know through history. With so many actors threatening to still the show, Owen Wilson manages to hold his own and not fall into the trap of mimicking Woody Allen. He infuses each line with his familiar cadence but still manages to evoke Woody Allen at the same time. As Adriana, mistress and muse to Picasso, Marion Cotillard is nothing short of breathtaking. She’s gives her manic pixie dream girl character a refreshing spin by infusing her with pathos and humour that transcends the stereotypical mould. If there’s one flaw in the script it’s with how Inez is written. As good as Rachel McAdams is as an actress, she’s not able to have her character come across as anything more than the atypical bitch.
It’s also worth mentioning that Midnight in Paris is the first Woody Allen film to actually look like a Woody Allen film in a long time. Cinematographers Johanne Debas and Darius Khondji not only successfully capture the decadent beauty of Paris, they also manage to fill each frame with the warm autumn glow that has been sorely missing from Allen’s recent films.
Woody Allen’s latest is a charming little film that’s filled with delightful moments that manage to be engaging and funny. It feels timeless in the same way many of Allen’s best films feel timeless. It’s comforting to know that the old Woody Allen hasn’t completely disappeared; he just likes to drop in and visit from time to time.