“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!