I have a love-hate relationship with Woody Allen. But lately we’ve been all hearts and flowers. First the very British “Match Point,” then the Latin romance of “Vicki Cristina Barcelona,” and now the airy delicious soufflé that is “Midnight in Paris.” Allen seems an ex-patriot by now, he’s been gone so long. But we’re the better for it if this grand tour inspires him to create such wonderful little films as this.
Owen Wilson plays Gil, the typical Allen protagonist, a very successful screenwriter who longs to finish his great novel and have it published. Owen adapts Allen’s mannerisms and speech patterns with ease and even dresses the part in wrinkled khakis and plaid shirts, Allen’s wardrobe de rigueur.
That this movie is a love letter there is little doubt, but it’s not between Gil and his strident fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams). They’ve visiting Paris with her parents, a couple of Tea Party types that Allen uses to poke a little fun at conservatives. By day, Gil joins in on the sightseeing as he waxes about how inspired he feels in the City of Lights. But Inez is more focused on their friend Paul (played with pretentious hilarity by Michael Sheen), a know-it-all boor about all things cultural.
On a solo midnight stroll, Gil finds himself in a vintage touring car with a group of revelers. Characters named Zelda and F. Scott offer him champagne and invite him to a party where a fellow named Cole is playing the piano. Somehow Gil has been transported to the 1920s and each night at the stroke of 12, he visits bars and parties and the drawing room of Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) where he converses with Picasso and Hemingway, who give him writing tips.
Here he meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who believes the perfect time was La Belle Époque, and longs to visit it, which she and Gil eventually do, spending the evening at the famed Maxim’s with notable figures of that era. But his double life is catching up to him when Inez starts to question where he’s going each night.In Allen’s world, it is perfectly acceptable that a character can move so easily in time and Gil’s bewilderment quickly gives way to curiosity and wonder as he seeks the wisdom and advice from a host of writers and artists. This is Allen’s homage to a place and time when some of the best and brightest lived and communed with one another as they produced some of the greatest literature and art that exists today. Lucky Gil.
But as one character points out, “Nostalgia is denial,” and running away each night to escape is something Gil cannot sustain indefinitely, so expect a resolution typical of Allen’s films with a wistful if happy ending.
“Midnight” is a lighthearted piece that in itself is vintage of another sort as it recalls some of Allen’s better films. He’s in fine form here with a great cast including Allison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald, Mimi Kennedy as Inez’s condescending mother, and first lady of France Carla Bruni as a tour guide. And Bates is a standout as the Stein.
The jazzy score lends a jaunty note to the proceedings, and the photography of Darius Khondji, a frequent Allen collaborator, is luscious. Paris has never looked better. Woody, where are we going next?
“Midnight in Paris” is playing exclusively at the Landmark River Oaks in Houston.