‘Midnight in Paris’ Review

February 22, 2012

Even if you’re not a Woody Allen fan by now you’ve doubtlessly heard the news that Midnight In Paris is not only Allen’s highest-grossing film of his career, but it’s also his best-reviewed film in years.  The movie has earned accolades all over the world – among them four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay (Allen’s fifteenth in that category).  Of course, those who aren’t New Yorkers or Woody Allen film buffs – or those simply turned off by Allen’s personal life – might not get what all the fuss is about.  Now that Midnight In Paris is available on DVD and Blu-ray, is it worth checking out for non-Allen fans?

Midnight In Paris stars Owen Wilson as Gil, a novelist in search of a story who is spending time in his beloved Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents.  Gil is drawn to the streets of the city, and after a night of drinking discovers that if he waits on a certain corner at midnight he is transported to Paris of the 1920s, where he gets to drink to excess with and pick the brains of that era’s expatriate artistic community, including F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), and, in one of the movie’s best performances, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway.  Though Gil is transported back to modern-day Paris when the morning comes, he finds excuses to return to the corner at midnight to spend all night in 1920s Paris, especially once he meets the beautiful Adrianna (Marion Cotillard) there, with whom he feels far more compatible with than Inez.

Part of the film’s appeal is that you don’t need to be a fan of Allen (or even the French) to enjoy it.  The central theme of Midnight In Paris is nostalgia – especially nostalgia for eras that were before one’s time.  We’ve all fantasized at one time or another about what it would be like to live in earlier eras, and in many ways movies have been one of the most immersive experiences for us to experience eras that existed before our time (or, for that matter, have yet to exist).  That enchanting quality of cinema is well-traveled ground in Allen’s films – the same reality vs. fantasy magical realism elements made The Purple Rose of Cairo one of his best films – but there is nothing about Midnight In Paris that feels worn or repeated.  In the hands of a lesser filmmaker the time travel plot would be silly or at least explained too much, but Allen knows that the actual story is Gil’s choice: living in his beloved past or continuing in his uncertain future.

Luckily, Owen Wilson is at his stuttering, nervous best in the lead role.  He certainly knows how to convey the body language of a man amazed at the incredible opportunity that he has stumbled upon yet also torn about his ultimate fate.  While Cotillard and the rest of the 1920s ensemble are wonderful, Allen lays it a bit thick with Gil’s contemporaries, who are altogether dislikable people.  McAdams’ Inez is a demanding shrew straight out of the “obnoxious girlfriend” in almost every rom-com, and her stuck-up friends, Paul and Carol (Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda), would drive just about anybody to roam the streets rather than hang out with them with or without the benefit of a time travel wonderland.  Yet because the modern-era scenes are so much less fun than the 1920s scenes it makes the film’s climax and ultimate conclusion so powerful.  As wonderful as nostalgia is – and Allen (who has similarly dwelled on his 1940s childhood in some of his previous films) goes to magnificent lengths to show it is – the obnoxious Paul is proven right with his assessment that nostalgia is “a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”

So even if one isn’t a fan of Woody Allen, will you believe that Midnight In Paris deserves all of its accolades?  Absolutely.  The film’s story appeals to one of our deepest desires – nostalgia – no matter what era it is that you would rather call your own than the present.  Because of the strength of the performances – along with the film’s incredible Oscar-nominated reproduction of 1920s Paris – it’s easy to forgive when Allen goes overboard with the blandness of Gil’s present.  After all, despite the dramatic storyline it is a comedy, and comedy is often at its best when it’s most exaggerated.

Rating: Enormously charming and one of the best of Woody Allen’s career (9/10).