Movie Review – Midnight in Paris (2011)

by NIR SHALEV

I’ve always loved the works of Woody Allen. Sure, he’s had two or three hiccups within the last decade but compared to his large body of work ranging from the mid 1960s to the present I’d say that he’s had a good 90% success rate. Midnight in Paris is a continuation of that success rate; it’s a throwback to classic Woody, like Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979) and reminds us that going to the movies can be a jolly good time.

Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) are engaged to be married. Inez’s parents flew to Paris on business and she and Gil accompany them, for a nice vacation before they’re married. Gil is a novelist but is afraid to let anyone read his current material because he’s afraid of criticism. He’s also in love with the decade of the 1920s and refuses to live n the present, claiming that it was a nicer time and place to live in.

One night, while walking off some alcohol ingested earlier in the evening Gil wanders the streets of Paris until he is lost. When parking his keister on the steps of a street corner, a car from a decade long gone appears before him and its occupants invite Gil to ride with them. He drives around with them not realizing at first that he’s been transported to the decade of the 1920s. Later in a pub, he meets Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and the Fitzgeralds, F. Scott (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (Alison Pill).

Of course, no one believes Gil when he says he’d met famous writers from over 80 years ago, but he decides to go back every night, or whenever he can to the same corner at midnight. He hangs out with the people that he wishes were really around him. He gets to meet Pablo Picasso and his muse of the month Adriana (Marion Cotillard), whom he tries to start a relationship with; Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody); Luis Buñuel and Manolete the matador; T. S. Eliot; and Henri Matisse.

What transpire are two things: 1) a paradox in which the happening couldn’t possibly happen and also that it most certainly is happening right before our eyes (Gil even leaves a first draft manuscript with Gertrude Stein and she calls it a tad too science fiction but likes it regardless), and 2) we witness life in a long forgotten decade which to its inhabitants is mundane but is incredibly wonderful and exciting to us. Gil loves the decade and loves even more that he’s a part of it.

Most of Allen’s films are character driven and this film is no exception to the rule; it is entirely character centered and driven. We follow Gil as he expands his horizons as a writer; Inez, who may or may not be cheating on him; and Inez’s father, who sends a detective to follow Gil on his nightly trips, with hilarious consequences.

There’s also the character of Paul (Michael Sheen), whom Inez and Gil know from back home who is a type of bourgeois pest, a know-it-all with his nose in the sky that Gil, we can easily tell, dislikes. The film also a strange and short third act that could be tweaked ever so slightly. But those little annoyances are overshadowed by how terrifically entertaining the film is from start to finish.

The art design of the 1920s interiors and period costumes are pitch-perfect, and we are able to tell of the decade depicted on screen with ease. No filmmaker that I’ve ever known of can depict older decades on celluloid better than Woody Allen can and watching this film I was reminded of Zelig (1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and Sweet and Lowdown (1999).

There’s a nice history lesson to be learned in how many foreigners lived in Paris at that time and how it affected their work but the film is more eye candy than a simple historical lecture. Allen’s love of Paris in undeniable. I’ve never seen a film open with five minutes of nothing but shots of contemporary Paris, played over music from the 1920s, only then followed by the opening credits. The city is undeniably gorgeous and romantic and it managed to put a spell over me for 90+ minutes.

This is a film that I highly recommend and recommend be seen in the theaters, if possible. It’s Woody Allen’s first digitally shot film, and he wants to know whether to shoot the rest of his films in the digital medium or with film; even though it’s a nice looking film, murky at night like it should be, I’d still prefer to see a celluloid version.  That would require transport to a parallel universe and that’s wishful thinking. But hey, it worked for Gil!

3 1/2 stars

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5 responses to “Movie Review – Midnight in Paris (2011)

  1. Richard Winters

    I prefer film over digital as well. Woody has always been such a traditionalist that I am surprised he even considered experimenting with digital. I know he resists doing commentary tracks to his DVD’s. Although I feel his peak was in the early 70’s I know some Allen fans from work really like this film, so I think I will give it a try. What’s your two favorite Allen films? I always liked “Sleeper” and “Everthing you Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask” with honorable mention to “Interiors”, which is his first dramatic film and features a haunting performance by the great Geraldine Page.

    • I’d have to choose three favourite Woody films which would be Zelig, for its amazing replication of the 1920s and the brilliant script, and in a tie, Bananas and Crimes and Misdemeanors; Sleeper is also brilliant. I own it and also, roughly 20 others of his films. I also own some of his comedy novels, well, short stories, and they’re also hilarious.
      He’s a brilliant writer.

      I’d recently watched Stardust Memories (Woody’s version of and homage to 8 1/2) and Radio Days (another brilliant period piece) and they’re wonderful films.

      How about you, Helen?

  2. @Helen, Annie Hall and Manhattan are his “king supremes” so leave those for later. You need to watch, in no particular order Sleeper, Zelig, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Mighty Aphrodite, Hannah and Her Sistsers, Interiors, Broadway Danny Rose; Stardust Memories, Crimes and Misdemeanors and it’s “remake” Match Point, Deconstructing Harry, and Bananas. Everything else is up to you. I just didn’t want to list everything that he’d directed. lol

    Bullets Over Broadway is also awesome. :O)

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