Midnight in Paris
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, and Carla Bruni. Directed by Woody Allen. Rated PG (Mild sexual references). 94 min.
This charming, romantic comedy-fantasy tells the story of a group of people, who travel to Paris. Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams), the woman to whom he has become engaged, accompany Inez’s conservative parents, who are critical of Gil as a future son-in-law for wanting to give up a Hollywood career to write a novel. Gil wants to live in Paris for inspiration, while Inez wants to live in Malibu on the east coast of America for comfort. Inez’s past boy-friend, Paul (Michael Sheen), joins the group, and speaks with false authority on the delights of Paris. Inez is enthralled by Paul’s apparent erudition, but Paul irritates Gil immensely. There is a brief appearance by the French President’s wife, Carla Bruni, who plays a Rodin Museum guide, who takes Paul to task for his careless knowledge.
While walking back to his hotel alone at night, a group of party-goers appears and urges Gil to step into their antique car. The car transports him back to the Golden Age of the 1920s, an era of fascination for him in his new novel, which is about a “guy who owns a nostalgia shop.” He is taken to several bars, where he meets famous writers and artists from the 1920s. There, he interacts with Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, and Ernest Hemmingway. Hemingway agrees to show his novel to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), and Gil leaves them to go back to his hotel to get his manuscript. When he leaves, he finds himself back in the 21st. century. The next night, he meets Picasso’s model and current mistress, Adriana (Marion Cotillard), to whom he is attracted. Gil knows that he is falling in love, and he becomes conflicted about his relationship with Inez, who by now is becoming increasingly suspicious of his late-night wanderings through Paris.
Together, Adriana and Gil, always after midnight, meet other famous artists, and they go back to earlier ages, such as La Belle Epoque, which began in the 1800s, and attracts Adriana very much. Adriana pleads with Gill to stay with her in this “beautiful” world, but Gil rejects the pull of nostalgia, and they decide to part. Back in the present, Gil realizes that Inez is having an affair with Paul. She admits to the liaison, and he leaves her. Gil remains in Paris to be inspired by its delights, and the film concludes with Gil walking a Parisian woman, Gabrielle, whom he met at a record store by day, home at midnight.
This film is a return to great form by Woody Allen, who wrote as well as directed it. It is a witty, and highly engaging movie that pulls the viewer inside a fantasy world, playfully and joyously. The closest film to this that Allen has directed is “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985), where Allen’s character steps out of a movie screen to experience life in the present. In this film, Gil steps out of the present to experience life in the past. Both films explore and ultimately reject the illusion that a life that is different from the one we now live has to be better. However, aspects of the illusion constitute the movie’s charm. Fantasy typically carries an element of wish-fulfilment, and midnight in Paris clearly fulfils Gil’s need, and also Adriana’s. The film confronts the illusion by showing that the present, with all its conflicts, is preferable to a world that is unreal. Nostalgia can be enjoyable, but memories of the past allow one to escape simply into the realm of imagination. In Gil’s fantasy world, Adriana is a pivotal figure, because she is as dissatisfied with her own life, as Gil is with his.
Owen Wilson’s comic performance creates a wonderful, unassuming naïveté, and Allen uses him very effectively to project his philosophical ideas about the meaning of nostalgia. A great jazz soundtrack provides perfect background music.
This is a very enjoyable movie. It will delight Woody Allen fans, and anyone experiencing Allen’s creative direction for the very first time. And throughout the movie, Paris manages to look glorious, come rain or shine.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out 20th. October, 2011.