It’s an Utterly Delightful Midnight in Paris
Nick: Please indulge a brief personal story. When I visited my friends Becky and Eric in Hawaii last year they insisted one evening we drink a bowl of kava, some sort of tasteless liquid that supposedly gives a person remarkably lucid dreams. I can vouch for its authenticity. The night I consumed kava I had a dream – I swear – that I was married to, ahem, Lady Gaga. ‘Twas a beautiful dream, utterly lifelike, and one wherein I somehow managed to realize as it was taking place that I was in a dream and rather than waking and ruining my pursuit of happiness, remained asleep, which made it that much more phenomenal.
I mention this because watching Midnight In Paris is like a lucid, beautiful dream you realize is happening while you are in it which allows you to appreciate it to the utmost. I am unsure how it happened but this is the first movie I can recall in some time that successfully succeeded in hiding its deepest, best secrets. The trailer gives away none of its true magic and I will refrain from doing so, too.
What I will say is that Woody Allen’s 41st film as writer and director stars Owen Wilson, doing fine work in the Woody surrogate role, as a Hollywood screenwriter and wannabe author Gil Pender. He has come to Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams, credibly playing a minor bitch) and her parents, all of whom are devout Francophobes, particularly Inez who actually says out loud at one point, “If I never see another charming boulevard.” Gil, on the other hand, a romantic, adores Paris, especially when it rains, and often dreams of having lived in its 1920′s incarnation when all the literary and artistic heavyweights held court there, downing cocktails and tossing about revolutionary ideas.
Inez’s old friend Paul (Michael Sheen), the sort who corrects tour guides, however, sees this as nostalgia which he believes is something a person employs solely when they are discontent with their place in the world. Ah, Paul, the classic Allen pseudo-intellectual who is less a character than a caricature employed so the screenwriter (whether doubling as lead actor or not) can take potshots at these insufferable gasbags. Specifically to get away from this guy Gil sort of abandons his wife by declaring he will walk from a wine tasting back to the hotel on his own one Parisian evening, winds up lost and finds himself seated on a scenic set of cobblestone steps just as a nearby clock chimes midnight. A car pulls up. Gil gets in. What follows is, simply stated, unexpected and wonderful and transforms into Allen’s finest work since 1996′s Everyone Says I Love You, a film which concluded in (hey!) Paris.
Numerous characters come and go, and among them is Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard in a performance so stunningly sexy that Allen, who typically serves up long takes of all his actors in wide shots, switches for her introduction to a tight close-up all so the grateful audience can over indulge in her softly lit face, adorned with a flapper headband evoking a black halo. She is critical to the story, but in what precise way, I will refrain from revealing. Go see the movie instead.
The film’s opening is what must be a three minute montage, no credits, no actors, no voiceover, of the City of Lights, in the morning, in the day, in the rain, after the rain, at dusk, at night, and would seem to suggest that, despite all the haranguing about how the Woodman’s recent moving out of his beloved New York for London and Barcelona rejuvenated him, Paris is his truly new muse. At last, he has abandoned the bitter existential crisis and the benign comedy for hopeless romance. The story, at its core, is rather unbelievable. That’s why I believed in it so much.
Castor: Who hasn’t fantasized of living in an earlier, simpler and more exciting era? In Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen reflects on this timeless fascination for the past that has haunted hopeless romantics around the world for centuries and in the process, directs his funniest and most enjoyable film in years. Starring Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard and Rachel McAdams, this is an hilarious, smart and whimsical fairy tale, one that lacks depth but more than makes up for it with a considerable amount of charm and sweetness.
Owen Wilson plays Gil, a successful Hollywood screenwriter visiting Paris with his whiny fiancée Inez (McAdams) and her smug parents. As an aspiring author and self-described Hollywood hack, he is a hopeless romantic who yearns for the golden age of 1920′s Paris. He fantasizes about befriending literary idols such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. One night, he decides to wander off into the streets and, as the clock strikes midnight, a 1920′s Peugeot pulls up alongside him and the occupants invite him to a party. I won’t say any more because Allen took care not to divulge the ensuing twist in the trailer and Midnight in Paris is too delightful for me to spoil it.
Woody Allen has often been criticized for repeating himself over and over again and this twist goes a long way in making this movie a surprising and refreshing gem. There is more to it however, the famed director’s entire outlook on life seems to have shifted and Midnight in Paris is his breeziest and sunniest film in many decades. It basks in its own silliness and never takes itself too seriously.
In essence, the story revolves around this nagging feeling we all have that there is more to life than the cards we have currently been dealt with. But was the grass truly greener in another era? Through Gil’s journey, Allen seems to have accepted the fact that there is no such thing as knowing you are living in the midst of a “golden age”. The past is no better than the present, we are just too busy dealing with the banality of life to truly pay attention. There is numerous philosophic conversations about nostalgia, golden age syndrome, and living in the moment but it all eventually becomes clear to Gil when he meets Adrianna (Marion Cotillard), an attractive woman also pinning for an earlier time.
The dialogue is sharp, brainy and funny, dotted with witty one-liners for the culturally literate. The more well-versed you are with 1920′s Paris and the literary luminaries of that era, the more hilarious you will find this movie. If you slept through high school American Literature, a lot of the jokes are going to fly over your head. It’s a truly wonderful script, one that will warrant Oscar attention at the end of the year.
Going into the movie, I was a bit skeptical about Owen Wilson but he is perfectly cast as Allen’s surrogate and he gives one of the most natural and appealing turn of his career. The rest of the performances are uniformly outstanding even though the characters aren’t meant to be anything more than caricatures. The director has some wonderful Hollywood and Gallic actors at his disposal. The lively McAdams, who usually plays the object of desire, has a thankless role but she deftly milks the obnoxiousness of her vapid character for all its worth. The alluring Marion Cotillard is absolutely charming as the free spirited Adriana despite not being given much to do beyond playing Gil’s romantic interest.
The rest of the large cast is basically reduced to fun cameos but everyone shines. In particular, Michael Sheen is hilariously smug as the unbearable pseudo-intellectual and there is a running gag about him being an expert on every topic imaginable. He is so insufferable that he gets into an argument with a museum guide, played by French first lady Carla Bruni. Nonetheless, it’s a thankless role and he simply disappears from the movie about half-way through. Kathy Bates is pitch perfect while Adrien Brody’s small cameo is a stroke of pure genius. And Corey Stoll is ridiculously hilarious, speaking exactly in the same macho prose as the author he embodies.
The director hasn’t hidden the fact that he considers this movie to be a love letter to the City of Light and he opens with an idyllic 3-minute montage, set to jazz, of Paris’ most scenic and famed landmarks. The extended sequence goes on a bit longer than it should but the director’s love for the city is clearly palpable in every frame of the film. Cinematographer Darius Khondji portrays the City of Light in a sanitized and magical light that is sure to make you want to fly to Paris right after the movie ends.
Charming and laugh-out-loud funny, Midnight in Paris is a whimsical and hopelessly romantic love letter to the city that will leave you with a smile on your face. I loved it.
Notes: Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and smoking, 100 minutes.
For More: Decoding “Midnight in Paris” (The New York Times – Spoilers)