DVD Review of Midnight in Paris: Smart, whimsical, and romantic in all the right places, Woody Allen’s Golden Globe-nominated comedy provides giddy thrills for lit majors and art aficionados, and carefree escapism for the rest of us.
In addition to award nominations from several major film-critic associations across the country, Midnight in Paris is currently up for four Golden Globe awards: Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy; Best Original Screenplay (Woody Allen); Best Actor—Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Owen Wilson), and Best Director (Woody Allen).
Now THIS is how you do romantic comedy. Midnight in Paris offers a clever twist on the genre, mostly because the romance is between a man and a city—specifically Paris in the 1920s. Owen Wilson plays Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter who feels like he’s sold out and is merely going through the motions in his career. He doesn’t want to throw in the towel on reaching his creative potential, but there’s nothing to inspire him in Tinseltown. Presently, however, he’s on vacation in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams, who was also Wilson’s object of affection in Wedding Crashers) and her parents, and for the duration of their stay, Gil’s hellbent on soaking in the rich culture and memories of a more sophisticated time gone by that surround him. He wants to imagine how much different, and surely better, his life would be if he were around during the City of Light’s Golden Age… even if the only way he can immerse himself in this fantasy involves sneaking away every evening at midnight and roaming the streets on his own.
To reveal exactly what Gil does in the wee hours would be to give away the coolest surprise in the film. I’ll just say that it wasn’t what I was expecting, didn’t seem like it should work, but it did precisely because this is not a movie or story that takes itself too seriously. Writer/director Woody Allen makes a poignant statement about the power—and downside—of nostalgia, and succeeds in getting his message across because (nearly) all of his characters have a grand old time in the process of learning that the past isn’t necessarily better than the present.
Wilson is obviously “the Allen character” here, and as someone who always found Allen to be pretty creepy, I was thankful the director left himself out of the equation (as he’s done since 2006′s Scoop). Wilson’s the right blend of self-conscious, self-absorbed, easily excited and neurotic, minus the skeeve and the usual “Come on, there is NO WAY she would be with him” issues often present when Allen’s in the leading role. In other words, Wilson was perfect. Rachel McAdams as Inez, on the other hand, came off as too materialistic and witchy to be believable as Gil’s fiancee. I couldn’t understand why they’d ever be together. So the scenes between those two were by far the weakest in the film. At least the tempo picked up considerably whenever Michael Sheen, playing a pompous-ass friend of Inez’s, was around to take jabs at Gil and not-so-subtly try to impress everyone else.
Marion Cotillard is also on hand as the breathy, mysterious Adriana, whom Gil meets during his late-night excursions. She, along with a boisterous cast of characters I’ll leave unnamed (portrayed by the likes of Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, and Thor‘s Tom Hiddleston), unwittingly help Gil inch toward finding the inner peace he’s been searching for.
Moviegoers who are familiar with the great artists and literary geniuses of the past will get the most enjoyment out of Midnight in Paris, as Allen peppers near-constant allusions, references, and in-jokes about their lives and works throughout the story. I fear I’m not as knowledgeable about those matters as I should be, but at least knew enough to understand the broader humor on display and appreciate what a ball everyone involved in the film’s production must have had. And by the time the end credits rolled, I was desperate to book a trip to Paris and experience some midnight wanderings of my own.