Review: Midnight in Paris

I must admit at the outset that I am not a Woody Allen aficionado by any stretch of the imagination. Midnight in Paris is only the third Allen-directed film I’ve seen to date (and one of those is Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and yes I know that many of his films are on Netflix Instant). And really we only saw it because the reviews have been quite positive, and at 9:45 PM after a long day at work is not the time to walk into a Tree of Life screening (Jill’s review of that tomorrow!).

Midnight in Paris is a wonderful and delightful film, even for people who may be wary of Allen’s usual schtick. Owen Wilson’s turn as Gil Pender is just so charming and affable that his performance gives the overall film an air of relaxation and ease. The film follows Gil’s discovery of Paris while vacationing with his fiancĂ©, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her wealthy, conservative parents. Framing the entire film around Gil’s sense of excitement and curiosity allows the audience to feel as though they are on vacation with him, becoming immersed in his newfound love for the City of Lights.

After a loving musical montage exploring modern Parisian streets, the first act of the film largely centers around Gil and Inez sightseeing with her friend Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife. Paul, best described in the film as “the pedantic one” comments as an authority on everything they do, even though he seems to have only a superficial, if confident, knowledge on any topic. “If I’m not mistaken,” he seems to preface every statement with, culminating in an attempt to correct a tour guide about the life of Rodin. To Gil’s misfortune Inez is quite taken with Paul and his blubbering, and reveals that she previously had feelings for him.

Having had enough of Paul at a wine tasting, Gil forgoes dancing or more sightseeing for a walk through the streets of Paris. Here is where the film takes its most interesting turn. Sitting on a stoop around midnight, Gil is picked up in an old-fashioned car, and whisked away to the 1920s, where he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston, and Allison Pill) , Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), and eventually others (Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali is a particular delight).

The performances really seal the fun to be had amongst these giants, and Tom Hiddleston may end up being the breakout actor from this summer. Allison Pill, one of the most delightful actresses from our beloved Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is convincing as Zelda Fitzgerald. I would watch a full film based around these two. The writing for Corey Stoll’s Hemingway is amazing, and I have no idea if they are his words or Allen’s, but they seem to fit (I may have a better idea soon).

The film becomes a close and fantastical examination of nostalgia, and more to the feeling of being born in the wrong time period (which I myself have felt from time to time). Through Gil’s interaction with these figures of artistic history, the Lost Generation, he (and we) come to discover more about ourselves in the present. This is an especially pertinent release for this nostalgia-filled summer, consumed with toy-based movie franchises, super hero period pieces, and new films masquerading under the masks of classics from decades before. Nostalgia here is the mark of a romantic, and the film ponders whether a true romantic like Gil can be happy in a relationship with a cerebral non-romantic like Inez or Paul.

Midnight in Paris is the perfect aperitif to any of the “popcorn” films, a delightful stroll through days gone by, while still offering morsels to ponder over long after the viewing.