Cineworld Glasgow, 13.10.11
Midnight In Paris is Woody Allen’s 44th feature film, and already his most successful at the box office. This says a lot about inflation rates and cinema ticket prices, but also points to the popularity of Owen Wilson, in the lead role as Gil, and of the city of Paris, which must surely hold the record for the city that features in the most film titles. It also says a lot about Woody Allen, about the sheer volume of his work, his ability to still find new stories to tell and despite the baggage that a Woody Allen film brings with it – both positive and negative – his persistence to continue to make an audience laugh over almost half a century.
Midnight In Paris continues Allen’s European tour of recent years, brought about mainly due to easier financing for his projects in Europe than in the U.S. For a director so intrinsically linked to the New York he grew up in, the break has resulted in a mix bag of films over recent years, from the critically successful like Vicky Christina Barcelona (Barcelona, 2008), to the down right awful Cassandra’s Dream (London, 2009), to the bizarrely unreleased in UK cinemas Scoop (London, 2006 – that a Woody Allen film starring Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman cannot secure film distribution in the UK is surely an astonishing indictment against the UK film distributors). Happily, Midnight In Paris has found both a distributor and an audience, and if not quite a triumphant return to Allen’s career highs of the past, is without a doubt one of his best films.
Sticking to directing duties, Allen gives the lead to Owen Wilson as Gil, a Hollywood script doctor, plagued by the lack of artistic fulfillment in his work. He follows fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) on a trip to Paris, along with Inez’s parents, who have travelled for a business trip. While in Paris, they meet Inez’s friend, Paul (Michael Sheen), a snobbish know-it-all, and his partner, Carol (Nina Arianda). While Inez enjoys her friends and parents company, Gil dreams of the Paris of old, the Roaring Twenties, when the city was at the centre of the artistic world. While out walking on his own one night, Gil suddenly finds himself transported back to that decade and he meets the idols of his life – Hemingway, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Dali – and falls for the young model Adriana (Marion Cotillard). Finding excuses each night to return to the Paris of the Twenties, Gil rediscovers his artistic inspiration and makes some decisions about his life in the present day.
Midnight In Paris manages to have its cake and eat it, reveling in the glory of this Paris of the past, and marvelling at the collection of literary and artistic giants that gathered together at that time, while at the same time making the point that through nostalgia, the past always seems better and brighter than the present. As the Woody Allen character, Owen Wilson is exceptional, managing to portray Allen’s nervousness, cynicism and whining nature, but also managing to inject warmth and sympathy, something that Allen has sometimes struggled to do as an actor. Having suffered a personal crisis of his own in recent years, Wilson’s return to more adult and intellectual comedy is a pleasant surprise, and the hope is he has left behind the juvenile nonsense of the likes of Drillbit Taylor (2008) and Hall Pass (2011). As he proves here, he is a comedic actor with the deftest of touches. Michael Sheen gets stuck into the part of pompous Paul with gusto, while Rachel McAdams copes well without getting any of the best lines to work with. The stars of the film though, are the impersonators of the historical figures in the Paris of the Twenties. As Ernest Hemingway, Corey Stoll steals every scene in which he appears, presenting the author as an embodiment of his literary style, swaggering around as a real man should, challenging anyone and everyone to a fight, drinking and speaking in short, sharp statements. Equally good are Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston as the Fitzgerald’s – she the emotional, suicidal, erratic party loving woman, he the enduring husband. The most joyous vignette occurs when Gil tries to explain to Dali (Adrien Brody) Man Ray (Tom Cordier) and Luis Bunuel (Adrien De Van) about his time travelling predicament, only to be met with incredulity. ‘Of course it makes sense to you’ Gil remonstrates ‘you’re surrealists!’ Amongst all the fun and frivolity, Marion Cotillard shines as Adriana, Picasso’s muse and the ingenue that steals Gil’s heart. Like Gil, she longs for a previous age, and together they end up in her ideal time – Paris in the 1890’s, in the time of the Moulin Rouge, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and Degas.
Allen tries nothing fancy with his camerawork, framing and staging shots as he has always done, particularly in the modern setting. The Paris of the 1920s is lovingly recreated, and Allen does allow his camera some freedom here, giving longer takes and a flowing movement to intricate dialogue driven scenes. Giving his common themes about life, love and angst a Parisian twist and a time travelling plot device, means Allen has created his most endearing film in years. Whether it’s the setting in the past, the European romantic sensibility or the playing of his accomplished cast, Midnight In Paris loses the acerbic, caustic tone that can hinder an Allen film, and gains an effusive, glowing atmosphere that means it is impossible not to warm to the characters. The ending in modern-day Paris may wrap things up a touch to neatly, but there is no doubt that you are on the side of Gil when he starts to make some choices about his own future in Paris.
A definite crowd pleaser, a sophisticated comedy with a warm heart and unequivocally a film to be seen.
Film Rating: 4 out of 5