“Midnight in Paris” – That Was Then, This is Now

Written and directed by Woody Allen, this romantic comedy is vintage Woody Allen. I love Woody Allen, but I don’t really, really, really love Woody Allen to the point that I think everything he does is brilliant and witty. He has had some real dogs. How many people have suffered through “Cassandra’s Dream”, for example, as I have? Nonetheless, there is a lot to like about “Midnight in Paris”.

The story opens with a young couple, Gil Pender (brilliantly played by Owen Wilson), and his fiancée Inez (believably played by Rachel McAdams in an unsympathetic role), traveling to Paris with her parents on a business trip. It is obvious from the outset that the couple is not suited for each other. Gil, a successful but dissatisfied Hollywood screenwriter, hopes to give up his Hollywood gig to write his first novel. Inez does not understand why.

At midnight Gil leaves his fiancée and her family to walk alone on a starry, rainy moonlit night saturated with golden hued tones the camera lovingly lingers onto the City of Light. Gil gets into a vintage 1920s roadster when some friendly partygoers beckon to him and is transported to the golden of cultural icons: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Dali, Man Ray to name only a few.

“Midnight in Paris” is, most of all, a comic walk down memory lane, for those viewers who can catch literary and artistic allusions to the period. A few examples: Hemingway speaks in sentence structures characteristic of his prose. Dali and Man Ray are called “not normal” surrealists. Gertrude Stein is the matriarch of a cultural elites’ salon with her lover Alice. Adriana, mistress of Picasso, played by the radiant Marion Cotillard, thrusts the pivotal lunge into the heart of this film when she asks Gil why he loves the 1920s. Gil utters the mantra embedded in all of Woody Allen’s movies–“Maybe the present is a little unsatisfying because life is a little unsatisfying.”

Gil wakes up from his longing for a “golden age” through a series of overdone flashbacks. Like his mediocre movies over the past three decades, Woody Allen doesn’t seem to know when to stop the repetition. Unlike “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, which I loved, this movie is the old Woody Allen genre, overwrought and lecturing like some old academic who has lost his audience. But this film is much better than most in the last ten years or so, perhaps on a par with “Match Point”–that is to say, good but not great. Owen Wilson, who actually channels Woody Allen’s famously high-pitched whiny voice (if you close your eyes,) should star as Woody Allen’s alter ego in all his future work. Who knew Owen Wilson’s delightful voice in rom-coms is an echo of Allen’s?

What, for me, saves this film is that “Midnight in Paris” is a palpable love letter to Paris, not only cinematic clichés of the Eiffel Tower, the River Seine, and the Louvre, but shots filled with so much affection for narrow street cafes and even the bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. This nostalgic tour of Paris together with some of the literary scene of the 1920s is worth the price of the movie ticket!

10 comments on ““Midnight in Paris” – That Was Then, This is Now

  1. Exactly, it’s a love letter as Manhattan was. The time travel concept was appealing.
    Ernest Hemingway talking of big game hunting, F.S. Fitzgerald calling Gil old sport,
    the reference to Prufrock when meeting T.S. Elliot. It is all amusing fun, worth seeing,
    and – overrated. The French love Woody as much as Woody loves the French.

    • Thanks for your comment. I would definitely recommend the movie to Woody Allen lovers. Others may be more on the fence about the merits of “Midnight in Paris”!

  2. Great review Diana~ I totally agree with your commentary! The thing is, if you don’t have an interest or knowledge of art history it could get a bit boring. I brought my girls and their friends and while they enjoyed it, the first 1/2 hour was challenging because- who are all these people?? But, the romance of Paris completely sunk in and they were prancing around Monterey afterward trying to say Bonjour! and Mais Oui! to each other… completely taken in by the city of lights! Mais oui Cherie.

    • Glad to hear your girls were good sports about the rather arcane literary and art references. Woody Allen has never been “young at heart” in addressing his love of anything. The City of Lights is mesmerizing, however, and Woody Allen has been a Francophile for a long time. I toast to him for that!

  3. Really liked the film, but really didn’t like Owen Wilson’s Woody Allen imitation. I wished he would have played his character as a unique person, not an obvious imitation. Everything else I really enjoyed.

  4. Yes, Owen is younger, blonder, more handsome and more Gentile than Woody…
    I may have liked the film better if Owen played it closer to his character, an Irish,
    Catholic troublemaker from Dallas, Texas. 😉

  5. I enjoyed your review and agree with you…Paris is the perfect set for any movie…As to Midnight in Paris, I also felt it was typical latter day Woody Allen…He is using the same formula of the doomed relationship and then finding True Love…We are left to wonder if he is writing from his experience with Mia…for those that want the old and very funny Woody Allen I recommend Whatever It Takes starring Larry David…

    • Hi Eugene, my #1 fan! I already have “Whatever Works” in my Netflix queue and waiting to see it. Thanks for the recommendation. Will move it to the top of my list!

  6. This film was all of the above, but for an old Woody Allen fan it was just fun. Imagine! A film that kept your attention with no guns, no overt sex, no ugliness. It was, I think, Allen making fun of himself. The vocal imitation was just great. But remember “Bananas”? My regret is that we can’t laugh the way we did when we saw that one. Our world has become so grim it’s nice to see something pretty at least.

  7. A nice romantic comedy with some laughs. I have enough background in Hemingway, Fitzgeral, Eliot and Stein to get the jokes, and see them coming. But it’s hardly necessary to have be familiar with these writers. I know nothing about the painters, but I still enjoyed that and got at least some of the jokes.

    Owen Wilson makes a nice stand-in for Woody Allen. He can display all the insecurities of Woody Allen, but he makes a far more better romantic lead than Wood Allen ever did.

    For those looking for the Woody Allen of Bananas, there is one moment ( the fate of the detective spying on Gil ) that ranks with best of the early Woody Allen.

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