Sunday, June 26, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011) Director: Woody Allen Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel Mc Adams

Genre: Comedy
Woody Allen's latest feature (and so far his most successful at the box office in 25 years) follows the strange trip of disenchanted American screenwriter and would-be novelist Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) and his fiancee Inez (Rachel Mc Adams) and her family of American provincals as they journey to Paris for a vacation.

Gil has had a lifelong affinity with the City of Light from previous trips there as a younger man but also from reading the books by about the many authors and painters that came there in the 1920's and before. He longs to see Paris as it was in the period of "The Lost Generation" when talented American artists like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the singer-dancer Josephine Baker, the surrealist photographer Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) and the salon gran-de dame Gertrude Stein could and did rub shoulders with the likes of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel and other charming and witty people who made the area a synthetic cyclone of bohemian energy in their after-hours prowlings.

By a bit of understated magic, Gil gets that chance to travel back in time via an old taxi with a claxon horn. What happens to him when he visits 1920's Montparnasse and other sections of Paris for a few magic nights (exactly as it was over 80 years earlier) both fulfills an impossible dream and also open his eyes to the realities of that time and place. Gil also meets the beautiful Adriane (Marion Cotillard) at a party featuring Cole Porter at the piano. The prospect of them falling in love leaves Gil with achoice: should he go back to his well-paid hack screenwriting work in Hollywood or stay behind in the 20's with a woman more artistically in tune wiith him than Inez and her annoying friends and boorish parents?

The idea of a "golden era" fixation (a nostalgia for an earlier time beyond a person's own lifetime) is fully explored with both its delectable possibilities and bittersweet realities. Woody Allen's insights here on this aspect of the human condition are both sharp and clever as he's ever been.

This is a film that would be interesting to anyone who enjoys romantic comedies (especially ones that emphasize romance over silliness and foul language) and also those who are charmed by seeing celebrated artists like Hemingway and the Fitzgerald's brought to life again with their ideas, passions, wit and perhaps fatal flaws on full display. Whichever one you prefer, this film will not disappoint.

Rachel Mc Adams is very good as the incredulous fiancee and Michael Steen shines as a pedantic twit who gets under Gil's skin with his constant showing off.


  1. I don't usually care for Woody Allen, but this sounds interesting. Thanks,Doug.

  2. Yes, Jacquie, I think many of his films come with some baggage . But I'm guessing many non-Woody fans would like this film. For one thing, he's not on screen and for the other, its really a delightful premise in a beautiful city.

  3. It is unusual for him to have some many well known actors in one of his movies. It does look interesting

  4. That's true about the popularity of the actors, Fred. The good thing about that is all the main actors in the film get their due--they are no little cameo parts where you feel the actor or actress you wanted to see was only cast to put another major name on the film poster.

  5. Thanks for the review Doug, certainly whetted my appetite. I have always been a great admirer of Allen's ironic wit and brilliantly observed subtle psychoanalytic scenarios ('Bananas' excluded).....but I will definitely true to catch this one, it looks pretty magical to me, although I avoid multiplexes so I'll have to wait until it comes to the Electric Cinema in Birmingham, the oldest working cinema in the UK...but I will catch it there if I can.....Thanks for the heads-up on this one Doug.

  6. I'm glad I could put this one on your radar, AA. It really is a seamless serio-comic film that works both as an insight into a nostalgist view of bohemian Paris in the 20's and the lack of that cultural/intellectual pizazz (for an American at least) in the modern world. It raises the interesting prospect of how one's reading and viewing of a cherished era and place, and how we might come "down to earth" or more deeply appreciate these people were they literally at our shoulders.

    "Bananas" (1971) represents to me a rather ham-fisted attempt to make a Swiftian satire regarding US and Latin-American politics. It's literally a patchy affair and Allen might have been a bit too eager to please the home team. A funny movie to me in many ways, but also too didactic in portraying a Latin political culture the film-maker I doubt knew much more about than what he could find in a copy of "The New Yorker"--where he wrote many funny stories--or travel brochures of Puerto Rico (where some of the film was shot).

    The funniest parts of the movie as I recall (from my last viewing a decade ago) deal with North America cultural taboos, commercials and organized religion.