WARNING: Review may contain spoilers.
Woody Allen’s latest effort as both screenwriter and director may very well be his best film in quite a few years. “Midnight In Paris” marks a very pleasant return to form for the 75-year-old, giving off a classic vibe similar to his past films like “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan.” Despite using a sort of time-travel mechanism as a plot element, the film has a timeless quality that is largely absent from modern cinema; it may work just as well in the 90s or the 80s as it does in current day. All up until one point when a character mentions the year 2010, I completely bought in to that illusion.
Owen Wilson plays the imperative Woody Allen character that is present in every one of his movies, this time a hack Californian screenwriter on vacation in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). Wilson gives one of the most endearing performances of his career as Gil Pender. In addition to the typical traits of neurosis, skepticism and the plain-vanilla sense of style, he also contributes some of his surfer-dude attitude to the traditional Allen persona. I would have never thought Owen Wilson to be a perfect fit in this type of role, but this has not been the first time I have been proven wrong.
Gil is on a mission to finish up his own novel, a tale of a nostalgia store owner who yearns to have been alive during the 1920s. This pipe dream is not all that distant from the writer’s own mindset, or for that matter, most everyone else’s. Most of us have wondered the same prospect at one point or another; I wish every flippin’ day I could have been a teenager during the 80’s metal scene. Gil loves his wife-to-be Inez, or so he thinks, but the two are often at different ends of the spectrum. While Gil loves to absorb the beauty and splendor of his surroundings (and I don’t blame him), Inez simply views Paris as another place to shop heavy and eat fancy. He feels absolutely no desire to hang out with her “pedantic” friends and he CERTAINLY does not want to feel like the social outcast of the group.
Walking alone one drunken midnight in the streets of Paris, Gil gets whisked away by a vintage automobile and is taken to a wild party where he meets the literary icon F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill). And the guy playing that piano in the corner looks an awful lot like that guy pictured on Gil’s sheet music. And is that Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) drinking whiskey over there at the bar?
Yes, Gil has stumbled into some kind of different time or dimension where artisans of the “Lost Generation” are alive and coexist and converse together. It is a curious and fascinating concept that I think needs no explanation behind it, but I am not quite certain how well audiences will take it. I, however, enjoyed the enigma of this phenomenon. The script makes room for plenty of winks and nods by incorporating spot-on cameo performances and clever art references. My personal favorite, as well as the most laugh-out-loud moment in the film, is Adrien Brody as the mustachioed surrealist thinker Salvador Dalí.
The aspirant writer has a blast meeting his influences in person and makes frequent trips every time the Paris bell tolls midnight. Ol’ Hemingway seems to be unsure about his own work. He recommends that Gil see the art collector Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) to give an honest opinion about his novel and give him a few tips. He is dumbfounded when he stumbles into a car with the great poet T.S. Eliot (David Lowe). He even starts a friendly relationship with a beautiful 1920s girl named Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who was a former mistress of Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo).
The script is what I would describe as kind of a daydream for fans of art, but even me as just a casual observer found myself caring about what these characters got into. Even the minor roles have distinctive personalities of their own. Conflicts continue to build upon each other with each visit to this seemingly ideal dimension and eventually make their way into the present. And the sights of Paris have never looked as gorgeous as they do here, to the point where even the steady helping of rainfall adds to the atmosphere.
All members of the cast do equally terrific work here, most notably Marion Cotillard as the lovely lady that every man of the era wants. And Rachel McAdams takes a turn from being conventionally cast as a plucky leading lady to playing a thoroughly incompatible yin to Owen Wilson’s timid yang. Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy get away with some of the best one-liners playing the girl’s unabashedly disapproving parents.
“Midnight In Paris” is a dazzling piece of American filmmaking that is a loving tribute to the romanticism and fine history of France. It is very funny without being glaringly obvious about itself. It is flawlessly scripted without being pretentious or inaccessible. What we have here is a charmingly meditative glance at why no time period can touch the one in which you live in. Trés magnifique, I say.