Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston.
For someone who was once reluctant to leave his beloved Manhattan, Woody Allen has certainly been shooting his movies in more exotic cities of late, which seems to have revitalised his creative juices. Both Match Point and Scoop were filmed in London, while Vicki Christina Barcelona was shot in the gorgeous seductive city of Barcelona in Spain. And for his 41st film the prolific Allen has gone to Paris, and takes a whimsical, romantic and nostalgic tour through the enchanting city of lights and its history.
Although the location is different the film still explores many of Allen’s usual themes – love, jealousy, relationships, pseudo-intellectual posturing, art, the creative process, intellectual pursuits, and the insecurities, lusts and yearnings of narcissistic artists.
Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a successful Hollywood screenwriter who is struggling to complete his first novel. He comes to Paris for a holiday with his rich, spoiled fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her disapproving parents. But the mismatched couple seems to hold different outlooks on their future. Gil loves Paris in the rain, and waxes lyrical about the Paris of yesteryear, when it was a bohemian paradise for a number of expatriate writers and artists. He feels like he was born in the wrong era, and dreams of living in Paris and breathing the same air as his hero Hemingway. But all Inez wants to do is shop and see the usual touristy sights.
Gil also butts head with Inez’s former professor Paul (Michael Sheen), an arrogant, pretentious and pedantic intellectual who is a self-professed expert on French history, art, culture and wine.
One night instead of going dancing with Inez and Paul, Gil goes walking, and is magically whisked back in time to 1920’s Paris, at the height of the fabled Jazz Age. He finds himself rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and the zany Zelda, T S Eliot, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, and Cole Porter. Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) offers Gil advice on the novel he is writing. There are plenty of wonderful in-jokes at the expense of many of these characters who had yet to make their formidable reputations. Gil also meets the beautiful and alluring muse Adriana (Marion Cotillard), and begins to question his own relationship with the shallow Inez.
The film has been beautifully shot by Darius Khondji (Seven, Panic Room, etc), and he makes the city a character in the film itself. The opening couple of minutes offers audiences a gorgeous post card-like travelogue through Paris. We see the Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Coeur, the Seine, and the Arc de Triomphe at different times of day. This is clearly a love letter to the beauty of Paris, and a lyrical poem to the romance of Paris in the 1920s. Midnight In Paris more than enough to make you leave the cinema and head straight for the next plane bound for France. The scenes set in the 1920’s are bathed in a warm golden glow, while the contemporary scenes are shot in vibrant breathtaking colours.
As usual Allen has assembled a solid ensemble cast to play some of these historic figures, including Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody. France’s First Lady, Carla Bruni also has a small role as a tourist guide. Bates is wonderful as the practical, no-nonsense Gertrude Stein, while Corey Stoll has fun as the very masculine Hemingway.
Wilson makes for one of the best surrogates for Allen’s neurotic screen persona, and his performances is full of the usual mannerisms, inflections, twitches, self effacing humour and insecurities we have become accustomed to. His performance is appealing and is the key to the film’s success.
Allen’s films have often been suffused with a touch of nostalgia, particularly through his jazz-influenced soundtracks, and Midnight In Paris is filled with an unabashed longing for a bygone era. Midnight In Paris is a delightful conceit in the same vein as his Purple Rose Of Cairo, and he pulls it off magnificently. Allen has been out of form of late, but this is a thoroughly entertaining and appealing whimsical fantasy, and is amongst his most charming and best films for quite some time.
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