© 2011 Ray Wong
To me, Woody Allen is hit or miss, and I often fail to understand his allure. However, when he ventures into the realm of fantasy, such as in Midnight in Paris, and stays behind the camera, the result can be rather amusing.
Gil (Owen Wilson) travels with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family to Paris. His future father-in-law is a staunch Republican businessman, and his future wife and mother-in-law are more interested in shopping and the finer things in life than the culture and history of France. Meanwhile, Gil -- a successful screenwriter and a wannabe nostalgia novelist -- is so convinced 1920s Paris was the Golden Age of the western civilization that he wants to move to Paris and write.
Inez, however, isn't onboard with his romantic idea. Instead, Inez is more interested in hanging out with her friend Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife. Feeling out of place, Gil takes a stroll down the Paris streets and gets picked up by a few partygoers in period costumes. Before he knows it, Gil is making friends with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll). Gil realizes that somehow he's been transported back to the Golden Age of Paris. And he wants to stay.
He tries to convince Inez to go the party with him the next day, but she thinks he's lost his mind. Instead, Gil returns and is having a great time meeting great artists such as Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Dali (Adrien Brody), and Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo). He also meets Picasso's mistress, Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a beautiful, mysterious and free-spirit woman that captures his heart. Gil realizes he doesn't really love Inez, and he yearns to live in a different space and time, specifically to be with Adriana.
Owen Wilson (Hall Pass) has toned down his obnoxious surfer persona in recent years and continues to take on the more Average Joe roles. As Gil, he basically plays a younger and prettier version of Woody Allen (a successful screenwriter who wants something better -- one has to be blind to not recognize Allen in the character), and he manages to channel Allen without being annoying (since both he and Allen could be). Wilson isn't the best actor in the world, but he displays genuine earnestness for us to root for him.
Rachel McAdams (Morning Glory) for once plays a less sympathetic character as Gil's insufferably shallow fiance. It reminds us of her breakout role in Mean Girls -- I think McAdams should consider returning to her root playing mean girls; she has a knack for that. Marion Cotillard (Inception) is exquisite as Adriana. She is charming but independent and she looks great in period costumes.
The huge supporting cast includes many notable cameos: ever-wonderful Kathy Bates (The Blind Side) as the outspoken and motherly Gertrude Stein, effervescent Alison Pill (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as Zelda Fitzgerald, charming Tom Hiddleston (Thor) as F. Scott Fitzgerald, handsome Corey Stoll (Salt) as Ernest Hemingway, and Adrien Brody (Detachment) as the wacky Salvador Dali. Michael Sheen (TRON: Legacy) gives a brief but excellent performance as Gil and Inez's braggart friend.
Writer-director Woody Allen (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) is one of the most prolific filmmakers in Hollywood, and he's earned his right to make whatever films and wherever he wants. His love affair with Europe continues when he moves away from London. His story and direction capture Paris perfectly. Best of all, Allen returns to "fantasy" by giving us a time-traveling romantic comedy. It's by far one of the most "accessible" films Allen has made recently. The characters are very relatable and the dialogue witty and dynamic. The situations are fantastical and joyous. Granted, there's not much of a plot, but the historical characters coming through the revolving door are interesting enough to keep us engaged. One could only dream to have the fantastic experience Gil is having, to meet all his idols.
Allen examines many themes in the story: how many of us go through life meeting expectations without understanding what we really want; how we often idealize things that are different ("the grass next door is always greener") than what we have; how perspective changes to people who are living in the present vs. looking back to the past. It is the last theme that is the most potent throughout the film, emphasized when Adriana takes Gil back to her own golden age -- 19th century Paris. That's why Gil realizes it's all just an illusion, and the best time of his life is NOW, once he figures out who he is and what he really loves.
Allen's direction is fluid and full of energy. Other than a few awkward editing and dull spots, the plot moves along well and the characters are interesting. There's a warm, romantic feeling about the film that is not often present in Allen's work, but it fits the film excellently. Wilson may not be the perfect choice to play Gil (it's probably more of a wishful thinking on Allen's part, to have pretty boy Wilson to play Allen's alter ego), but the rest of the cast play well together.
Midnight in Paris is romantic, whimsical, and entertaining. While the themes are not particularly deep or life-changing, the best part is that Allen doesn't hit you over the head with them. The historical and fantastical backdrops are captivating as well. In a way, the movie is as fun and enjoyable as Paris, if that's your thing.
Stars: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Michael Sheen, Nina Arianda, Tom Hiddleston, Corey Stoll
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Distributor: Sony Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual references and smoking
Running Time: 100 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 7
Total – 7.5 out of 10