Midnight in Paris is a comedy directed by Woody Allen starring Owen Wilson. The film is an ode to Francophiles and really anyone who yearns for the glimmer of yesteryear. Wilson plays Gil, an unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter who is on a Parisian vacation with his fiancée Inez and her family. (I assume that pre-wedding honeymoons are a common occurrence for Hollywood types and successful job creators, but I digress.) Gil wishes to move to Paris and rekindle the creative spirit of his youth, while Inez would much rather him stay in his current job where he is comfortable; such are the trials and tribulations of the artist! (Pronounced ARE-TEEEESTE; we are in Paris after all.) Feeling out of touch, Gil takes strolls by himself on the streets of Paris, and finds a carriage that takes him back to 1920’s Paris; his ideal Paris. Through his quantum leaps he finds himself in the company of many literary and art figures that inspired him: Ernest Hemmingway, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso among them. Gil’s nights in the past bring him a lot more joy than his days in the present, but he arrives at the point where many protagonists often ask themselves: can I actually live in a fantasy?
There are two different Owen Wilsons: The over-the-top Owen Wilson of films like You, Me and Dupree, and the more subtle Owen Wilson from Wes Anderson films such as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Thankfully the latter Owen Wilson is present in Midnight in Paris. Gil’s unfettered joy at meeting literary icons makes his character so much fun. During the daytime he looks like the cat that ate the canary, spewing historical facts that he learned the night before. Marion Collitard plays romantic interest Adriana. Collitard is always great to watch on screen; she exudes a classic Hollywood look and confidence. As Adrianna she plays the latest in a long line of Woody Allen beauties that has the power to make you root for the protagonist to have an affair with. There are also plenty of cameos by various actors: Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Rachel McAdams as fiancée Inez, Michael Sheen as the perfect know-it-all romantic foil and Adrian Brody in his brief but amusing take on Salvador Dali.
There’s a great mise-en-scène to the film, (and yes I can use snooty French film terms; the movie’s about Paris!) The music provided by Stephane Wrembal is an essential piece of the film, bringing the style of the 20’s and the humor of Gil’s predicament to life. The dimly-lit, smoke-filled cocktail lounges that populate Gil’s late nights in the 1920’s firmly contrast the golden brightness that the Paris daylight brings in 2010. Midnight in Paris is a film that questions if the grass is actually greener, specifically when it comes to days gone by. Can an overreliance on nostalgia become a form of escapism? (There’s a meta-joke about escapism being explored in film: one of the ultimate forms of escapism, but I can’t put my finger on it.) Whatever the answer is, Woody Allen has a fun time exploring the question and I would advise not to think too hard on it (or about the potential damage Gil makes to the space-time continuum!) and enjoy the ride.
Final Grade: A