Like him or hate him, it is virtually impossible not to have an opinion on Woody Allen. After almost fifty years of filmmaking, with as many films to his credit, it is difficult to imagine an American movie landscape without him. From his “early funny films” through to the more recent downers like Match Point, it is hard to have missed seeing at least one of Allen’s contributions to the canon. Unless you live in Australia, of course, where Allen’s films have become something of a rarity. His most recent film prior to Midnight in Paris was You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, which completely bypassed local cinemas and is yet to see the light of day even on the home front. Yet absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Allen’s latest effort reminds us of why he was worth missing in the first place.
Gil (Owen Wilson, Hall Pass) and Inez (Rachel McAdams, Morning Glory) are a couple who travel to Paris. Gil, a successful Hollywood screenwriter and struggling novelist, has fallen in love with the city and believes that he would have been better off living in the ‘heyday’ of the 1920s. Seeking to escape Inez’s pompous friends and parents, Gil decides to go for an evening walk through the streets of the City of Light, only to find that the answer to his prayers might just be a stroke of the clock away as he is whisked to 1920s Paris to hobnob with the great writers of the day.
With the exception of 2009’s Whatever Works, based on a screenplay Allen had written in the 1970s, it has been difficult to know exactly which Woody Allen we would be getting over the last decade or so. With this love letter to Paris, Allen reaches back to his ‘golden era’ of Manhattan, in a musically-driven opening sequence that recalls that Oscar-winning film. Indeed, Midnight in Paris is the kind of high-concept comedy that Allen would have made in the 1970s, and here he does so with all the cocksure confidence and audacity that the younger filmmaker consistently brought to the table. Crafting a story that is equal parts The Purple Rose of Cairo and Deconstructing Harry, by way of the similarly-themed 1990s British TV comedy Goodnight Sweetheart, Allen operates in his element, giving audiences just the right doses of cheeky satire, off-the-wall humour and good old-fashioned love story. Yet to simply say that this is the best Woody Allen film in years would be to diminish the simple magic of this story.
One of the often inextricable elements of Allen’s comedies is Allen himself, and those stand-ins for the highly-parodied persona have ranged from the brilliant (John Cusack in Bullets Over Broadway) to the misguided (Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity). Owen Wilson seems like such an obvious choice, as the affable comedian slips comfortably into the khaki pants and collared shirts that Alvy might have worn while wooing Annie Hall. With his distinctively enthusiastic drawl, Wilson’s persona has become as much of an identifiable affectation as Allen’s own schtick, but here it is used to give the character not only a vulnerability but a believable entry point for an audience that is asked to simply go with a story that casually involves time travel and gives Wilson no less than three beautiful women vying for his attention.
Peppered with pinpoint casting in Tom Hiddleston (as F. Scott Fitzgerald), Kathy Bates (as Getrude Stein), Adrian Brody (Salvador Dali!) and Marion Cottilard as Gil’s 1920s love interest, Midnight in Paris could have very easily descended into farce. This may have been the type of film that Allen was known for in a bygone era, but like his protagonist, he enjoys looking back to his best years, but is perfectly content to live and work in the now. Bringing to bear all of the confidence and self-assuredness that only a veteran filmmaker like Allen can provide, he couples it with the youthful enthusiasm of his cast to create a film to genuinely fall in love with.
Midnight in Paris