I’m not going to claim to be a connoisseur of all things Woody Allen, in fact I’m almost sure this is the first film of his I’ve ever seen (unless you count Antz for which he provided his voice). As I understand it Allen writes and directs pretty much the same film every year. His recent efforts have largely underwhelmed but this latest film is being hailed by critics as his lightest, most charming and best in years.
Owen Wilson plays Gil, a Hollywood script doctor with more literary aspirations holidaying with his fiancée and future in-laws in the French capital. Though his lady love Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her right leaning parents seem only interested in shopping Gil is enamoured by the city, daydreaming about living there and yearning for Paris in the twenties, the golden age as he sees it. With Inez disgruntled by his frustrations and paying more attention to her pedantic friend Paul (Michael Sheen) Gil takes a midnight stroll during which he is beckoned into a classical Peugeot and escorted to what seems like a brilliantly realised 1920s theme party. Then he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Midnight in Paris is a time travelling rom-com about nostalgia. It’s a theme that runs through the whole script. Gil’s novel in progress is about the proprietor of a nostalgia shop and the character’s own nostalgia defines him and his motivations and the film’s central examination of the idea is carried through to a satisfying if slightly predictable conclusion. The charm of Midnight in Paris lies in its breezy lightness of touch and the frequent introduction of famous artists and personalities of the past and the matter-of-fact manner of the appearance. Wilson’s reaction to being picked up by T S Elliot one night is priceless.
Inevitably there’s a fair amount of romance to the romantic comedy and Marion Cotillard provides the chief focus for romantic interest as Adriana one of the few characters Gil meets on his frequent travels who isn’t a household name. It’s nicely played throughout but (I’m assured) offers nothing we haven’t already seen in dozens of other Allen films.
If you’ve a mind to it’s possible to rip the film apart, it’s remarkably sentimental since it’s all about nostalgia, Inez’s republican parents, though entertainingly played by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy are written as one-dimensional ogre stereotypes and it’s really hard to see why Gil and Inez are together in the first place. These criticisms aside the film’s charms are so strong that you’ll struggle to find a more engaging and witty romantic film this year. It’s well played throughout, Wilson channels Allen excellently a makes for the kind of likeable hero you always want to root for, Paris looks absolutely lovely and it’s a joy to tick off the personalities as they come up (look out for Adrian Brody as a potty Salvador Dali).
Rom-coms for the educated are a fairly rare breed but this is one of them. The gentle, beautifully presented humour and cinematography will spellbind.