The past decade has seen glimmering instances of greatness from Woody Allen, the native New York filmmaker with a taste for wry romance and Jewish comedy. But between the London of Match Point and the Spain of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen has failed to recapture the wistful poignancy of his Manhattan days. Midnight in Paris is his most consummate film in years. A fulsome story carried by an eclectic ensemble, with plenty of the usual Woody furniture in place to please die-hard fans.
Hollywood hack Gil (Owen Wilson) is visiting Paris with his high-maintenance fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. Frustrated by Inez’s insistence on following art-gallery expounder and ex-boyfriend Phil around, Gil succumbs to the antiquity winking at him around every corner. Excusing himself from a late-night dance, Gil is tempted away by late-night revelers in an illustrious looking vehicle. Marveling at the throwback setting of the party they bring him to, he slowly realizes that the gentleman who has introduced himself as Scott Fitzgerald, is the F. Scott Fitzgerald, and by a stroke of magic, Gil has in-fact time-traveled to the 1920’s. Struggling to reconcile his first attempt at serious literature, Gil has stumbled upon a goldmine where, at midnight, he is transported to an era rich with literary and cultural icons who are eager to critique his work.
Owen Wilson, softening around the eyes, plays the prototype Allen protagonist to a tee, with his heavy footed stroll, cultural proficience, and courdorouyed charm. But underneath the surface features, Gil’s preoccupation with nostalgia and life’s ‘big things’ are staple Woody centerpieces. It’s Hemingway, and his fellow l’age d’or dwellers, who take the film beyond a fluffy romance. Although almost being sent up, Hemingway darkens the film, reminding us that life is a long journey on which you are only destined to die. The quixotic Adriana (Marion Cotillard) softly embodies the antithesis to Gil’s irksome fiance. She is a sensual muse, alive with chance and vivre. Thankfully, Adriana isn’t just some Aphrodite floozy; she too is caught up in the demon of nostalgia, lusting for Gil but tempted by the promise of her own golden age, the Belle Epoque.
As always , Allen makes the trials of a relationship appear so fair to weather – the personality defect in the other half, the sudden vision of their unhappy life together, and a pair of overly intrusive parents to hurry the split along. It would be refreshing to see him tackle the truth about break-ups, which are so rarely of such ease or without heartache.
All of Woody Allen is here to be seen. Life’s moments of magic, complication, philosophical interjection, and more so than ever, romance. Midnight in Paris is a quietly joyful success which will have you fantasizing about your own Parisian love affair. Truly, a movable feast.