The trailer for Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris has to be one of the most coy and understated trailers I’ve ever seen. The clips used give no indication as to the plot of the film and it makes me hesitant to commit a review to the web, it feels like I’m giving away the secret of a surprise party. So, If at all possible I would recommend seeing this film with no prior knowledge of the plot, but to give you some indication of what to expect, I’d suggest having a few brain cells, some light knowledge of literature and the arts, and an appreciation for sharp and witty comedy would stand you in good stead when enjoying this film. It is not a gushy, slow-burning romantic tale as the trailer suggests, it will genuinely surprise you.
For those who wish to read on, here goes. The story revolves around Gil (Owen Wilson), a writer of substandard Hollywood movies but with ambitions to write the great American novel. He is in Paris with his fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. Whilst enjoying their stay, Inez is over-eager to spend time with a second couple, Paul & Carol (Michael Sheen & Nina Arianda), despite Gil’s protestations. And well he might protest, Paul is a smug, arrogant, self-styled intellectual, absolute in his unwavering belief that he is right in all matters, and always with a clever word to say. Gil, unimpressed by Paul’s holier-than-thou attitude seeks seclusion from the group by strolling through Paris at night. One such night as Gil wanders the streets, an old-fashioned Peugeot pulls up and the giggling revelers invite him inside. When deposited at their destination, a party, Gil is surprised to be introduced to some familiar names, Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and the list goes on.
At no point is this magical time-travel ever questioned. We are not required to over-think it and quite honestly, we have no time to. We are swept through this fantastical world, where each encounter with a person of historical significance amuses and delights us. The characters are all incredibly rich and vibrant, despite being unaware of the contribution they will be making to the world. Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill) is delightfully charming and dappy, Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) delivers each line with tremendous gravitas and dead-pan humour and Adrian Brody as Salvidore Dali produces one of the most enjoyable scenes of the film. Discussing time-travel with Surrealists? Allen must have had so much fun writing the script.
As Gil frequents 1920’s Paris, the cracks in his relationship with Inez begin to show, and are compounded by the crush he develops on Adriana (Marion Cotillard) whom he affectionately refers to as the first ‘art groupie’, having been a mistress to Braque, Modigliani, and currently, Pablo (Picasso!). At the same time, Gil is perfecting his novel with the help of Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) whom he talks to as if she was a modern-day agent and friend, so comfortable is he with his unique situation, we just get to sit back and enjoy the interplay between the two different times and cultures.
Owen Wilson is integral to the appeal of the film. He delivers such an innocent and sincere, almost child-like wonderment, to the character, as he interacts with his literary heroes. His performance is utterly charming and is a great vehicle for him to show his talent outside the Frat-pack comedies. Each and every actor who has to don the part of a historical genius, creates such an entertaining caricature that I often felt genuine disappointment when their scene was over.
If you’d like to see a film that tickles the brain, then this is definitely worth watching. There is absolutely nothing to dislike about this film, and I dare anyone to say otherwise! I’ve always felt Allen’s films were a bit hit and miss, but this is by far, one of the best.