Midnight in Paris (2011)

Director:  Woody Allen
Cast:  Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates
Plot:  A romantic comedy about a family traveling to the French capital for business. The party includes a young engaged couple forced to confront the illusion that a life different from their own is better.

Genre:  Comedy / Fantasy / Romance

Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Original Screenplay.  Nom. for 3 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Art Direction.
Runtime:  94min
Rating:  PG for some sexual references and smoking.

As far as Woody Allen is concerned, he doesn’t care if his films hit or miss the mark.  I suspect as long as he is able to write and direct a film a year, he would be pleased with himself.  And he has been doing so for more than four decades now. 

This incredible workaholic of a writer-director who subverts the Hollywood system by consistently adhering to his own signature, personal cinematic style is an American national treasure.  His newest film, Midnight in Paris, is one of Allen’s better contemporary efforts, but it still falls quite short of his best works of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Midnight in Paris, which premiered at Cannes as the opening film, stars a knockout cast of Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, with supporting turns by Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, and even Carla Bruni.  

You might be surprised to see Wilson in a neurotic film by a neurotic director, but it works excellently.  From the opening dialogue, we instantly identify with Allen’s trademark sardonic tone as delivered by Wilson.  In that immediate singular moment, Wilson becomes Allen and plays out the latter’s alter ego for the rest of the film.

Wilson is Gil, who works in Hollywood, but is taking a break and writing a novel that talks about the nostalgic past.  He is in Paris with his girlfriend Inez (McAdams) on a business trip with her family.  One night, Gil walks home alone, finds himself lost and is tempted by drunk folks to hitch a ride that takes him back in time to the 1920s. 

All of a sudden, he meets famous figures in early 20th century literature and art – Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Porter, Dali, Bunuel, Picasso and many more.  This turn into fantasy is not abrupt and is well-handled by Allen who uses a warmer color palette for the sequences in the past.

While Midnight in Paris is at times hilarious and quite engaging, there are some dull, uninspired portions in the film that weaken the film, especially in a couple of superfluous scenes with Cotillard as her character bonds with Gil.  

There seems to be a loss in verbal momentum as the pacing becomes more languid the more time Gil spends in his fantastical realm.  The shuffling back and forth between past and present keeps viewers’ interest at a sufficient high, though I must say the second act of the film is not as involving as the first and last.

Midnight in Paris is beautiful to look at, especially of its night scenes both in the past and present timelines.  The epilogue draws influences from Linklater’s Before Sunset (2004), a film whose freewheeling spirit Allen’s film tries to emulate, but does not do so as successfully. 

However, Midnight in Paris remains true to what we now come to know as Woody Allen – still a neurotic genius but who has mellowed over the years.  The film embodies elements of Allen’s unique style and echoes some of the greatness in his greatest films, yet the film does not at once seem to be an instant classic as many have purported it to be.  Still, worth a watch.

GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)

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