There are two sides to Woody Allen’s coin. Anyone familiar with Woody Allen is unavoidably cognizant of a few common traits: his films take place in New York, star a character who is (or acts just like) Woody Allen, involve farcical and possible fantastical elements, and will usually end on a positive note.
That’s the Woody Allen most of us recognize, but what about the films that stray so beautifully from that formula? Little-seen, but masterful dramas like Interiors, Stardust Memories, Another Woman, Husbands and Wives, and Match Point? For my money, Allen’s dramas are almost always on point, whereas his contemporary comedies are, more often than not, grossly lacking. Which is why I report, with great pleasure, that Midnight in Paris is a well deserved, pitch perfect romantic comedy.
I mentioned fantasy earlier, and this is true, although you may not realize it. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Sleeper, Stardust Memories, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Alice, and Deconstructing Harry are just a few Allen movies that rely heavily on fantasy to help propel the story. Allen always roots his fantasy content in reality, thereby stripping the characters of any form of boring, prolonged denial. And when he pulls it off, as he does whimsically in Midnight in Paris, the result is utterly delightful.
So when a self-proclaimed “Hollywood sellout” screenwriter drunkenly stumbles into a party and is soon sharing cocktails with the likes of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, don’t expect his denial to last too long. He’s going to enjoy this moment, and so should we.
Gil (a fantastic Owen Wilson, no, that is not a typo) is tired of being a sellout. He’s tired of the success he’s earned by rewriting Hollywood blockbusters. He wants to write, really write. Novels, poems, whatever, as long as it’s meaningful prose. His fiancé, Inez (a perfectly bitchy Rachel McAdams) does what she can to thwart Gil’s literally romantic efforts, but her labors soon bear fruitless.
One night, while vacationing with Inez and her parents in Paris, Gil, having had a little too much to drink, stumbles around the streets of Paris before being picked up by a few immaculately dressed party goers in a fancy old car. Gil is taken to a party, and soon chatting with the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, and plenty more. This is Gil’s lifelong wish, you see. He can’t remember the last time his 21st century surroundings inspired him. He’s always wondered what it would be like to live during The Golden Age. And now he knows.
Gil does this for days on end, seamlessly wondering into 1920’s Paris and soaking up the scenery before he is magically transported back to 2010. During his midnight trysts, he meets a slew of colorful characters, and even wins the affection of Picasso’s mistress (Marion Cotillard, seriously, can this woman do no wrong?). Whether you recognize the names of the people Gil runs into or not, it’s utterly wasteful to spoil them here. (But let me say that the actor playing Salvador Dali deserves an Oscar nomination for his brief but spot-on performance.)
A lot could go wrong in Midnight in Paris, namely, the casting of Owen Wilson, who still has a bad taste in his mouth from the complete waste of shit that was How Do You Know. But to say Wilson nails it is an understatement. He’s got Allen’s shifty enunciations and nervous vernacular down perfectly. Rachel McAdams plays lovingly against-type, sinking her teeth into Woody Allen’s malevolence in a way that could make Judy Davis jealous. While Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Kurt Fuller, and Tom Hiddleston all bring the proper amount of charm required of their respective roles.
Midnight in Paris is a great kind of film. The type of movie in which a master returns to form and delivers well beyond what is expected. Woody Allen has mostly kept his films out of New York for the past decade, and that’s fine. As long as he churns out films as worthy as Midnight in Paris, we’ll all reap the benefits. A-
For more on Woody Allen, click here.
For more on Woody Allen, click here.