Midnight in Paris (2011) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual references and smoking
Running time: 100 min.
Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Michael Sheen, Marion Cotillard, Nina Arianda, Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Carla Bruni, Alison Pill, Lea Seydoux, Adrien Brody, Yves Heck, Gad Elmaleh
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Owen Wilson (Hall Pass, Little Fockers) stars as a Hollywood hack screenwriter named Gil, travelling to his favorite city, Paris, with his fiancée Inez (McAdams, Sherlock Holmes) and her parents, John (Fuller, Mr. Woodcock) and Helen (Kennedy, Erin Brockovich). Paris brings out the romanticized notions of the time Gil spent there, as he not only reminisces about what his life might have been had he remained there to live, his current attempt to work on his first book regarding a nostalgia shop brings forth vivid notions of Paris in his favorite era, the bustling 1920s, where literary and artistic greats frequented and influenced many.
As Inez has taken a fancy to spending time with a pedantic scholar Paul, Gil takes his alone time to stroll the streets of Paris, and on one fateful night, at the stroke of midnight, he is picked up by a taxi from the 1920s, which takes him to a party where people are dressed in old-fashioned garb, calling themselves such names as Scott Fitzgerald (Hiddleston, Thor), Cole Porter (Heck, Female Agents), and the like. He soon realizes that he is in the middle of some sort of cosmic time travel phenomenon, or just one hell of a wild fantasy, as he returns night after night to meet those who've inspired him, such as Ernest Hemingway (Stoll, The Number 23), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo, The Man I Love), and Gertrude Stein (Bates, The Day the Earth Stood Still). But complications arise when he meets beautiful Parisian wardrobe designer Adriana (Cotillard, Nine), who is the embodiment of everything he's ever wanted in a woman.
Owen Wilson, who already has made a career playing somewhat neurotic characters, feels a natural enough fit for Woody Allen's (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Whatever Works) normal style without having to do an Allen impression to make it work. He's not a natural romantic lead, though, and he's too reserved to blow through some of the parts that someone with more onscreen charisma would have made more believable, but he does have a boyish look and wide-eyed demeanor that does sell the notion that he would not question long the magical elements of the time travel story development - something absolutely critical to suspend disbelief in for the film to work.
The high concept film gets shots in the arm at regular intervals by continuously introducing new iconic historical figures into the mix, featuring character actors having a good time in their roles. Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway and Adrien Brody (Predators, Splice) in a cameo role as Salvador Dali are especially humorous in their satirical portrayals. The film is shot with particular love for the city of Paris, starting off with a montage of a typical day in the City of Light to get audiences in the mood for the romanticism to unfold.
Allen fans will likely enjoy the film despite its slightness, and those who aren't as knowledgeable will find it one of his more accessible works, perhaps not even paying remembering his name is attached to the film as the story begins to take form. It's not Purple Rose of Cairo, though there are some similar themes (as well as a character named also named Gil who inhabits two different worlds), but in comparison to the sex and poop humor that permeates many films that pass for "date flicks" made today, the one theme that resonates is that a return to the simple way things used to be back in the day isn't necessarily a bad thing at all. Not top shelf Woody Allen, and definitely not must-see entertainment, but it's still as pleasant and crowd-pleasing a vehicle as he's made in some time.
©2011 Vince Leo