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Midnight in Paris - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Midnight in Paris
Directing: A-
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-

A strong case could be made that Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen's best film in fifteen, maybe even twenty-five years. Granted, given the average track record of his annual films over that period of time, the counter-argument could be made that that’s not saying much. But Allen's best work truly stands out, not just in his own oeuvre but among modern film history -- and, though not without its minor flaws, the net effect of Midnight in Paris is that it stands with the best of them.

Certainly this features Allen's best writing since Match Point (2005). It's long been talked about that taking the settings of his films outside of New York has reinvigorated his work; after 35 years, he fairly well exhausted all their was to say about New York City characters. This time around, the setting of Paris is rendered the loveliest love note to a city since his own Manhattan in 1979.

And a love of Paris is very much the focus here, both on the part of the broader film itself and on its main character, Gil (Owen Wilson). Gil is visiting Paris with his fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams), who had just decided to "freeload" on her dad's business trip, even though she's indifferent to the city. But Gil is obsessed with a time and place outside his own, romantically idealizing Paris of the 1920s, when a ton of major names in 20th Century literature were hanging out there.

Gil, turned off by the pretentiousness of Inez's "pseudo-intellectual" friend (an amusing Michael Sheen, here actually adopting an American accent that practically renders him unrecognizable), takes a walk by himself at midnight. The clock strikes twelve, an old car drives by, and Gil is invited to come in and join them on his way to a party.

This keeps repeating night after night, each time transporting Gil to the period he's convinced he would have been happier living in, and he systematically befriends a bevy of big-name authors: F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston); Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill); Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll); T.S. Eliot (David Lowe); Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). He also runs across painters like Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) and songwriters like Cole Porter (Yves Heck). In one beautifully executed sequence, in which Gil opens up to his new acquaintances about his "perplexing" time-travel predicament, he's at a table with surrealists Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), Man Ray (Tom Cordier) and Luis Buñuel (Adrien de Van).

The parade of significant historical figures seemingly never stops during Gil's midnight excursions, and some of their portrayals are better than others. Kathy Bates, one of cinema's better actresses, occasionally comes across more as Kathy Bates than as another character, much less Gertrude Stein. There are fleeting moments when Stoll as Hemingway comes across more as caricature than character. Much of this can be attributed to Woody Allen's famously permissive directing style; some actors flourish without dictatorial direction while others flounder. For the most part these actors do a great job, though, perhaps none more so than Marion Cotillard as Adriana, Picasso's mistress and the immediate object of Gil's infatuation, because he connects with her in a way he never did with Inez. (At one point Gil tries to come up with what he has in common with Inez, and the best he can do is that they both like "Indian pita bread.")

The writing, while at times a little too obvious (we know what kind of epiphany Gil's going to have about so-called "Golden Age Thinking" -- the idea that a time in the past was somehow better than the one we're living in -- far before he does), is also unusually layered and textured, particularly for a Woody Allen film. Midnight in Paris manages to be simultaneously wistful and grounded in the present; entertaining while making a statement on the nature of living in an idealized past.

In one of the movie's cleverer twists, once Gil and Adriana fully connect while they are together in the 20s, suddenly a carriage comes by and transports them to the Parisian period Adriana idealizes the most -- La Belle Époch -- beginning in the 1890s. Adriana meets famous people she admires from the time; immediately drags Gil to the Moulin Rouge.

Allen never bothers to offer any explanation how or why these slips in time are occurring, and that's actually a relief. It's beside the point. All we need to know is Gil is facing the past in a way nostalgia for a time he never experienced could never make possible, and it gives him insight into his present. Occasionally this process is a tad oversimplified, but the love for Paris -- of all time periods -- comes across as so genuine, and is so charming, that's easily overlooked. Midnight in Paris is much less a typical (or even recognizable) Woody Allen film than it is simply a story that lifts your spirits as you watch it.

Owen Wilson waits for the clock to strike 'Midnight in Paris'.

Overall: A-
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