I ADORED THIS FILM. I’m not going to bide my time getting to the conclusion with this one, it was just fantastic. It reminded me of Tennessee Williams… if he had written about Paris and time travel. Clearly he wouldn’t, but the ideas of memory and dreams and living in the past – there were all there. You could even argue the character of Adriana was the quintessential fragile beautiful female protagonist!
I like Woody Allen but I haven’t seen enough – only bits and pieces and not nearly enough of the classic stuff as I should have. I loved Matchpoint (though everyone I know hates it) but found Vicky Cristina Barcelona deeply disappointing. But all reviews and internet speak suggested Midnight in Paris was a return to form, and Woody Allen having completed his cinematography tour of London and Barcelona headed to Paris to film his new one, which opened Cannes earlier this year.
California couple Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) tag along with Inez’s parents (Zachariah from Supernatural playing the dad!) on a trip to Paris. Gil, a successful screenwriter, is trying to write his first book and the only thing he has ever liked, and seeks inspiration from the streets of Paris, particularly the rainy streets of Paris. Inez is more interested in dining out, shopping for their Malibu home once they’re married, and after bumping into some friends including former college professor Paul (Michael Sheen), following him around and listening to everything he has to say, sidelining Gil in the process. After snubbing a night of dancing, Gil goes off on a walk around Paris at night, and as the clock strikes midnight, is pulled into an old fashioned car and fantastically transported back to the 1920s, where he mingles with F Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), is helped by Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and seeks advice from Salvador Dali (a fabulously on form Adrien Brody). He also meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a young woman who has moved to Paris to study fashion but has become involved in several affairs with famous painters, including Pablo Picasso. He finds himself increasingly attracted to Adriana the more time he spends in the 1920s world and the less time he spends with Inez in the present, and becomes conflicted about where his heart truly lies and where he truly wants to be.
This film is absolutely magical - a wonderful story full of whimsy, romance, fantasy, humour and such a fluid innocence. It’s all down to Owen Wilson, who is being the good Owen Wilson here, and I’d go so far as to say it’s one of his best performances. Finally he is bringing everything he delivers in a Wes Anderson film somewhere else! And here is the junior to Woody Allen’s senior, capturing the bumbling, self-deprecating man perfectly. I thought he was absolutely charming, and his pure wonder at meeting his famous heroes and muses in the alternate reality makes him almost adorable. He’s a joy to watch in every scene. Contrast that to Rachel McAdams, here playing the most hateful of unappreciative self-obsessed bitches, it’s impossible not to like him and buy into everything that happens to him, and the allure of Paris. I’m not a huge fan of the romance capital of the world (isn’t it just a big city?) but here it does suit the role of a powerfully enchanting place. I do think it could have been London or Rome or Prague though… though the beginning of the film is a postcard showreel of its sights and haunts, it’s the past that Woody Allen focuses on here, not a tourist trip (though we do get a wander round Versailles).
The two threads of the film worked in such harmony with one another. I loved his venture into the world of the 1920s every night, the thrill of not knowing who he was going to meet next (Woody Allen pulls out all the stops here) and what impact they will have on him. But then I also loved the present day Paris, the way he struggles with reality and his relationship with Inez and her parents, and even though she is such a monster to him, I secretly wanted her to accidentally fall into the nostalgia world as well and realise he was telling the truth. But of course there is no redemption for her: she is hard and straight talking, no-nonsense and lives in the present. Gil, always believing he was born far too late, has the openness and emotion to let himself into this world. Although the private detective following Gil must have opened his mind a little too much as he found himself trapped in the era of Louis XVI! It was like being transported into a fairytale, and that’s why I spent the majority of this film with a big grin on my face. I loved the exchange between Gil and Adriana as they are transported back to Adriana’s golden age, the Belle Epoque (I did wonder why she was going on about the golden era of belly pork all the time), about living in the past and Gil’s realisation that everybody’s golden era is from a time that’s been and gone, and living in the present is always going to bring dissatisfaction. But Adriana chooses to stay in the past, and it’s then Gil knows he must let her go.
As well as the poignancy there’s moments of hilarity too – two of my favourite scenes are where Gil corrects Paul on a Picasso painting in an art gallery (having been with Picasso the night before as he was painting it) much to the open mouth of Inez and the hand-in-air woops of the audience. Then there’s the scene where Gil steals and creatively wraps up Inez’s pearl earrings as a present for Adriana, only for his fiancée to walk through the door as he’s about to leave and then freak out about the maid taking them.
It’s a perfectly crafted story, one rich with satisfaction. Though some of the plot points are hokey I had suspended by disbelief a long time ago. I loved the use of the smaller characters, the way he uses the tour guide (Carla Bruni) to translate Adriana’s diary which he finds in the present on a bookstall, and how all the focus has been on the two main females in his life, yet at the end Gil is walking home the girl who works in the vintage record store, who shares his love for rainy Paris in a beautifully sweet finish.
For whatever reason, Midnight in Paris just elevated itself for me. It’s a film that fills you with joy, and warm fuzzy feelings as well as the experience of having enjoyed a great story. But there’s more to it than that as a hundred films can make you feel that way. It’s the imagination and banter of Allen, the trusting good nature of Owen Wilson, and the escape within an escape that is so rare in adult films that makes you want to walk down a cobbled street, listen to an old song on the radio, and dream of your own special golden era, waiting for a car to drive by and take you there. One of the best films I've seen all year.