Midnight in Paris – 2011
I’m going to start this review off by saying something which I would normally not say when it comes to a Woody Allen film. It was absolutely charming. But I also have to give credit where credit is due and say that like nearly all of Allen’s films, it was clearly intellectual and well-written. But the film also had one major flaw. Someone thought it would be a good idea to cast Owen Wilson in the lead role. I’m sorry, but he is just not a very good actor.
So let’s get that out of the way quickly and move on. Wilson has always been one of those actors of whom I am baffled by his success in Hollywood. First of all, I’m sad to say, he is physically unattractive. As shallow as my opinion is, his weirdly deformed nose is incredibly distracting. But what was even more distracting was his style of acting. Though there are few films in which I have seen him, he always seems to have an almost stupidly dazed persona. He plays the same character in every film. He plays himself because he has very limited range as an actor. But here, I think he tried to stretch himself. Yes, the stoner vibe was still there, but it was infused with the most annoying qualities of the movie’s director, Woody Allen. As an actor, Allen has always had a bumbling, neurotic, stuttering, rambling, and vaguely grating personality. The combination of the two didn’t work for me.
But I’ll stand by what I said. The movie was absolutely charming. Its saving grace was the smart and interesting script. The film was a fantasy romance in which Gil Pender, played by Wilson, is engaged to be married to Inez, played by Rachel McAdams. Gil was a good guy who constantly allowed himself to be dominated by his fiancé. She was manipulative, dismissive, demeaning, and always had to have things her own way, without the slightest concern for his thoughts or feelings.
Gil makes a good living as a Hollywood screenwriter, though he is working on his own novel. The two of them are visiting Paris to spend time with Inez’s disapproving parents, John and Hellen, played by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy. While in beautiful city, Gil and Inez run into her friends Paul and Carol, played by Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda. Paul is one of those annoying guys who claims to be an expert on every subject, even going to far as to argue with a professional tour guide at the Musée Rodin about Rodin’s personal life. Inez buys into all his intellectual chauvinism.
But the film gets fascinating when the time travel starts. A slightly drunk Gil wanders the streets of Paris alone. At the stroke of midnight, he is picked up by a car full of partiers straight out of the 1920s. The automobile is a Peugeot Type 176 car. The passengers are all dressed in period costumes. They drive him to a party for Jean Cocteau. He meets famous historical writers Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, superbly played by Allison Pill and Tom Hiddleston. They take him to a few bars where he meets various other prominent historical figures, eventually encountering his own literary idol, Earnest Hemmingway, wonderfully played by Corey Stoll.
He goes home and his problems with Inez intensify. He tries to explain what happened to him, and she calls him crazy. That night, he goes back again, this time meeting Gertrude Stein, played by Kathy Bates, Pablo Picasso, and most importantly, a gorgeous woman named Adriana, played by Marion Cotilllard. Gil and Adriana share an instant attraction to each other.
There were two things I loved about the fantasy element of the rime travel. First, it didn’t draw attention to itself. It was just there. It never seemed to matter that Gil wasn’t dressed appropriately. Nobody seemed to notice or care. And it was never explained. There was never a reason for the time travel, and there didn’t need to be. Second was that it wasn’t played off as a dream or hallucination that took place in Gil’s mind. It was real, so real that when Gil is in his proper time, he finds a copy of Adriana’s diary, in which he himself is mentioned.
And the time travel goes even further. As Gil goes back to the 20s, he and Adriana are picked up by a horse drawn carriage which takes them back to the Belle Époque era of the late 1800s. She chooses to stay, ending her romance with Gil. And it all has the dual result of teaching Gil that he is in the wrong relationship, and causing him to become a better writer. Back in his own time, he ends his engagement and finds Gabrielle, played by Léa Seydoux, who is a better match for him. It was all a little manufactured, but I cannot deny that it was, as I said, absolutely charming.
And I loved the little subplot about the detective hired by Inez’s father to follow Gil in his nightly wanderings. He also traveled back in time, but got stuck in the Versailles of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. He is last seen fleeing from the palace guards who want to cut off his head. That one had me laughing out loud.