Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen's latest is an enchanting love letter to Paris

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Midnight in Paris

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Written and directed by Woody Allen. Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Michael Sheen, Nina Arianda, Carla Bruni, Yves Heck, Alison Pill, Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston, Sonia Rolland, Daniel Lundh, Laurent Spielvogel, Thérèse Bourou-Rubinsztein, Kathy Bates, Marcial Di Fonzo Bo, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux, Emmanuelle Uzan, Adrien Brody, Tom Cordier, Adrien de Van, Serge Bagdassarian, Gad Elmaleh, David Lowe, Yves-Antoine Spoto, Laurent Claret.

A delightful, enchanting little Paris-set comedy-romance, Midnight in Paris is a shade of Woody Allen that we haven’t seen since 1985’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. Too many films of this type – which use a whimsical, even supernatural premise as a starting point – lose the audience when by trying to explain themselves away, but this one, like Purple Rose, or Field of Dreams or Groundhog Day, gets the movie magic just right.

Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), successful Hollywood screenwriter and struggling novelist, is visiting Paris with his shrill fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her snobbish parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). Gil’s is trying – and mostly, failing – to get inspired by the city for his book, about a man who runs a nostalgia shop. Inez is hardly helpful; she unconvincingly feigns interest in his work, and suggests he hand it over to her priggish, pseudo-intellectual friend Paul (Michael Sheen) for feedback.

Gil can barely stand five minutes of touring Paris with Paul and his partner, so when Inez wants to go out dancing with them, he politely declines. Instead, slightly buzzed, he takes a stroll down the streets of Paris and quickly gets himself lost.

And then, well, the movie takes an unexpected (but completely welcome) turn: Gil finds himself transported back to 1920s Paris, a place he’s able to return to each night at midnight. There, he meets the famous expat writers and artists of the period: Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), who brings a copy of Gil’s novel to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) for feedback.

He also meets young antiques dealer Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) in present time, and the lovely Adriana (Marion Cotillard), Picasso’s mistress, in the 1920s; both women get him to think twice about his current, stereotypically American, fiancée.

Midnight in Paris is light and easygoing entertainment; there are no real villains (though Inez is strictly one-dimensional, and the role does no favors for the almost always-likable McAdams) and the conflict is low-key, never melodramatic, and handled in a surprisingly adult and mannered fashion.

The cast is terrific. Outside of a Wes Anderson movie every few years, Owen Wilson has been slumming in generic Hollywood fare for awhile; here, he’s right at home as a nebbish Allen-like protagonist, as likable here as in his work with Anderson. Cotillard is positively luminous as Adriana; Brody is fun but only has a single scene as Dali.

Midnight in Paris, almost impossible to dislike, is one of Woody Allen’s best-reviewed features in years; I’ve enjoyed Woody’s recent features – You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Whatever Works, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and especially Match Point – more than others, but Midnight in Paris, light and fluffy as it is, has that movie magic so rare in contemporary film that makes it something special.

An excellent soundtrack makes use of Stephane Wrembel’s Bistro Fada as its main theme, and throws in a number of delightful classics, including Sidney Bechet’s Si tu vois ma mère, and Coel Porter’s Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love.


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