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Midnight in Paris (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 23, 2023


Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, Nina Arianda, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Léa Seydoux, Corey Stoll, Yves Heck and Gad Elmaleh.

Screenplay by Woody Allen.

Directed by Woody Allen.

Distributed by Sony Picture Classics. 94 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Traveling around Europe has been good for Woody Allen.

In the middle of the last decade, his career seemed to be at a standstill. Despite making a movie every year, he had not had any kind of critical or popular success in a decade. Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1989 was arguably his last masterpiece, though I suppose a case could be made for two good-but-imperfect mid 90s films – 1994’s Bullets over Broadway and 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite.

Still, Allen’s dissections of Manhattan society had grown a bit stale, so he shook things up by going to London to make his quality comeback, the wonderful 2005 drama Match Point. (Truth is, the change of scenery was completely economic – Allen has acknowledged the film was supposed to take place in New York but filming had gotten to be too expensive there so he moved the film to London where he could afford to make the movie.) Still the new digs brought out a new purpose in the legendary writer/director. After this, the Woodman stuck around England for a couple of movies (Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream) with diminishing results.

Therefore, Allen decided to try out a new city. Vicky Cristina Barcelona – filmed in the gorgeous Spanish city mentioned in the title – was yet another return to form for Allen. Then he returned to his native New York for the okay-but-slight Whatever Works and went back to London for You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger.

Again Allen was ready for another shakeup, and he set his gaze towards the City of Lights.

Midnight in Paris is easily Allen’s best pure comedy since Mighty Aphrodite. (Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, though very funny in parts, were essentially dramas.)

Midnight in Paris is in the tradition of Allen fantasy-comedies like The Purple Rose of Cairo and Zelig. It is a beautiful meditation on art and nostalgia and also as commercial a film as Allen has put together in years.

Essentially, in a thumbnail, it is about a Hollywood screenwriter struggling on his first novel who decides to visit Paris with his horrible fiancée. One night while wandering around the city, he somehow slips through time and ends up in the 1920s – rubbing elbows with his heroes like F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel and others.

It’s a brilliant piece of wish fulfillment, charming and smart and wonderfully imaginative. And if occasionally it seems like Allen is going a little too hog-wild with his Paris nostalgia – you keep running across another legendary name around every corner – it is still a fun idea.

Due to its terrific premise, Midnight in Paris pulls off the neat trick of wallowing in nostalgia at the same time that it warns against wallowing in nostalgia.

Owen Wilson – an actor who I have always felt was overrated, by the way – does one of his best jobs ever in the lead role. Playing what is essentially the Woody role, Wilson actually does a terrific job of not overdoing the Allen tics and mannerisms – a problem that has haunted some more talented actors who have previously worked on Allen’s films.

His fiancée is played by Wilson’s Wedding Crashers co-star Rachel McAdams in an essentially thankless role. Apparently Allen, who recently acknowledged he almost never watches modern comedies, said that he saw Wilson and McAdams work together in Wedding Crashers and decided they were really good together and he wanted to hire these two actors. I don’t know why, but somehow it makes me smile a little bit, the idea of Woody Allen sitting home alone catching Wedding Crashers on cable and thinking, “Hey, what is this?”

It’s with this kind of playful mood that Allen takes on Midnight in Paris. Allen obviously loves the city and the artists that he is writing about and that love is contagious in this sweet fantasy. As so many artists before him, Paris brings out the best in Allen and I hope he continues to film there periodically.

In the meantime, I’m wondering which European city will be Allen’s muse next – perhaps Rome, or Monte Carlo or Athens, or Cannes, or Madrid, or Lisbon? I’m looking forward to seeing Allen’s view on all of these beautiful cities.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: July 3, 2011.

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