Mark Reviews Movies

Midnight in Paris


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hiddleston, Carey Stoll, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references and smoking)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 5/20/11 (limited); 5/27/11 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 26, 2011

For better or for worse, there is probably no contemporary filmmaker more apt to air out his idiosyncratic insecurities and issues through his movies than Woody Allen. His protagonists can be very thinly disguised (even less cloaked in the instances in which he plays the central character) of himself, wandering through the story with a tone of self-deprecation and suspicion of anyone who seems to have it put together better than him.

Midnight in Paris is most definitely Allen's incisive, self-critical voice for the better. A Parisian fantasy that sidesteps ogling the allure of the City of Lights (after an extended montage of a day passing by in the city in a series of static shots of various landmarks) for an even dreamier concept of escaping the everyday ennui of a disappointing life, the film imagines its Allen-esque hero literally regressing to a time he believes to be better than the one in which he is currently living.

It's popularly called the "Golden Age Syndrome," an idea that the hero calls nostalgia and another decides is equal to denial. We hear it on TV and radio a lot—that if only things were the way they once were, all would be right in the world (Allen twice references the Tea Party here, which might seem a cheap political shot, if not for the collective delusion so often espoused by some of those in the group of "taking back the country" while wearing colonial attire).

Times were simpler during whichever period they glorify, people say, rejecting the backdrop of turmoil for the pleasant face they read about in books, watch on fictional sitcoms, or hear in the cheerful lyrics of songs. There is also, of course, the ignorance of the dilemma of their own hope. For if they, as human beings, hope for some idyllic sense of perfection and find it elsewhere, why would not the same desire hold true to those of the age they idealize?

The Allen mouthpiece is Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a Hollywood screenwriter fed up with rewrites and projects that don't have the same creative spark they once had (Any jab Allen might make at someone else is usually balanced with a harder one leveled at himself). He has come to Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams), tagging along with her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) on her father's business trip. He daydreams of the day he will be able to move to the city and live the life of a genuine bohemian writer, barely scraping by while residing in an attic apartment, but it will never equal what he imagines were the best times to be alive: Paris of the 1920s.

After a difficult day with an old friend of Inez' named Paul (Michael Sheen), who purports to know everything on whatever topic may arise in conversation or while exploring Versailles, Gil decides to take a tipsy late-night stroll, losing his way back to the hotel. The clock chimes midnight as he sits in a courtyard, and a pristine, vintage car arrives. It's occupants call Gil in to attend a party with them. They introduce themselves: F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Zelda (Alison Pill). By the way, has he met their friends Ernest Hemmingway (Corey Stoll, a consummate scene-stealer), Cole Porter (Yves Heck), and Gertude Stein (Kathy Bates) yet, they wonder.

Cavorting and conversing with his heroes lives up to Gil's romanticized vision of the past. He talks with Hemmingway about writing, even summoning up the courage to finally allow someone to read his first novel, naturally about a man who runs a nostalgia shop (Hemmingway insists he is not the one to give the book a look-over, since he will inevitably hate it—either it'll be terrible or good, in which case he'll be jealous he didn't write it). After the discussion and preparing to meet Stein the next night, he runs off elated, only to return to solidify the plans to discover that the pub he was in has turned into a Laundromat.

Inez thinks he's snapped, and her father, suspecting an affair, hires a detective to trail Gil. He's half right, since Gil later meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a lover of artists including the likes of Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), whose painting of her Gil is able to dissect with seeming first-hand knowledge to correct Paul during a trip to a gallery. Adriana spots something in Gil, leading to a dilemma that only surrealists like Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody) and Luis Buñuel (Adrien de Van) can fathom but cannot adequately explain to their new friend (At one point, Gil is on the other end, as he pitches the idea of a Buñuel film to a confused Buñuel).

Allen's screenplay accepts the time-travel gimmick as simple fact, allowing his period characters to talk in in-jokes that they don't realize are jokes and for Gil to bask in the glory of his realized fantasy until the rug is pulled out from under him. It may be an obvious punch line (involving Adriana's own myth-making), but Midnight in Paris, with its charming, imaginative sense of fancy, still manages to cull some truth out of it.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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