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Midnight in Paris

June 4, 2011
Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen is pretty much a known quantity by now. He spent a long time in Manhattan making some great films like Crimes and Misdemeanors, but eventually he started making Hollywood Ending and Match Point. So he picked up and moved to London, where he ran from Scoop quickly down to You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Now he’s transplanted himself — possibly briefly — to France for Midnight in Paris. The new scenery seems to do him good, but we’ll see how long it lasts this time.

Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a successful hack screenwriter in Hollywood, set to marry Inez (Rachel McAdams), though it doesn’t seem like a great match. Her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) are traveling to Paris for business, so the young couple decides to tag along. Gil is swiftly taken with the beauty of the City of Lights, particularly in the rain, but Inez is more excited to bump into their friends Paul and Carol (Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda).

Paul is a gregarious intellectual who knows everything, or at least acts like he does. Gil is self-effacing and averse to crowds — does this sound familiar yet — and would rather wander across the city at night. And on one of his late-night meanders, while rhapsodizing about the golden age of Paris in the 1920s, he gets picked up by an antique Peugeot cab and dragged off to a party where Cole Porter (Yves Heck) is playing the piano.

Indeed, after midnight Gil is transported back to exactly the time he’s been wishing for, when Paris was inhabited by seemingly nothing but artistic and literary expatriates like Ernest Hemmingway (Corey Stoll), Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Alice B. Toklas (Thérèse Bourou-Rubinsztein), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody), Luis Buñuel (Adrien de Van), and Man Ray (Tom Cordier).

And of course there’s a girl; Adriana (Marion Cotillard) was born in Bordeaux, but moved to Paris to design theatrical costumes. After a dalliance with Modigliani she’s shacking up with Picasso, and she harbors her own dreams of Belle Époque Paris, holding it up as a golden age every bit as much as Gil idealizes the ’20s.

So Gil now has to juggle his less-than-glamorous daytime life with Inez, Paul, and Carol and his nighttime adventures with Adriana and company. And just in case it’s in question, Allen makes explicit that this is really happening and not just a dream.

But in a way this is sort of a disappointment. The 1920s characters are great, but they’re definitely caricatures; Stoll makes a great example as exactly the sort of Hemmingway you’d imagine if you read and loved his most macho novels. There are no surprises for Gil — beyond the obvious — which would make more sense if these people are meant to be projections out of his own head. But as something more like science fiction or magical realism it’s a weak conceit.

None of the acting is out-and-out terrible, but besides Stoll there’s very little outstanding work here. Wilson does a fairly decent job of fusing Allen’s nebbish character with his own golden-retriever persona, but he still feels like Owen Wilson always does. On the other hand, if we could extract Stoll’s Hemmingway and give him his own movie — historical realism be damned — I would be there on opening day.

But really what we find between the obligatory screens full of Windsor-EF Elongated is a pretty straightforward Woody Allen outing. Entertaining, sure, and definitely not as insulting as much of Hollywood’s output, but nothing really that amazing or that terrible either. The globe-hopping seems to do him good, though, so I take it as a good sign that his next big film is supposed to be set in Rome.

Worth It: yeah, if you’re a Woody Allen fan.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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