Saturday, July 2, 2011

Midnight in Paris: A magical story that will make you laugh and think

Midnight in Paris (comedy, fantasy, romance)
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody

2011 | 94 min | PG-13 | 1.85:1 | Theatrical Release Date June 10, 2011

The Film 5/5

Woody Allen has directed more than 40 movies and Midnight in Paris is one of his best. It’s a gentle comedy with a strong fantasy element. Like most of Allen’s movies, it relies on good writing and clever dialogue.

The fantasy element changes the entire feel of the movie, and although it’s revealed early in the story, I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. However, this would be a very short review if I didn't mention it at all. So please be warned that the remainder of the review contains spoilers. If you don’t want to know, it’s time to stop reading.

The story is built around Gil Pender (Wilson), who arrives in Paris with his fianc√©e, Inez (McAdams). He’s a writer hoping to find inspiration and she wants to see some of the local sights. The two explore the city with friends Paul (Sheen) and Carol. Paul claims to be an authority on everything and Gil is annoyed by him, but Inez used to have a crush on Paul and enjoys his company.

One evening, Gil decides that he will take a walk alone to get away from Paul. He’s a little drunk and manages to get lost, and eventually finds himself sitting on some steps at midnight. It’s here that the entire movie changes. A vintage car stops and the people inside urge Gil to get in. They take him to a party and he discovers that Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald are among the guests. He’s surprised at their names, and even more baffled when he’s introduced to Ernest Hemingway.

Gil has traveled back into the 1920s.

What would you say to Fitzgerald and Hemingway if you were an aspiring writer? Gil is both astonished and thrilled to be in their presence and mentions that he’s also a writer. The trip to the past isn’t permanent and he wakes up in the present the next morning. Was it just a dream, or was it real? Allen never explains how Gil returns from the past.

He tries to reenact the event, taking Inez with him, but she leaves before midnight. When the clock strikes, the car appears again and he’s back in the past. He’s introduced to other famous artists, singers and writers, and Gertrude Stein (Bates) critiques his manuscript. Gil seems at home in the 1920s and happier than when he is with Inez in the present. The people seem to understand him better and he fits right in. 

The story is filled with interesting encounters. The characters spend a lot of time talking, and Allen’s imagination keeps things more than interesting. I found it quite gripping. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Hemingway and was reminded of Dan Simmons’ fictional book about him, The Crook Factory. Every encounter with people from 1920s Paris was both charming and intriguing. I found myself imagining how they must have lived, and what it would be like to exist in such a creative environment.

The audience in my theater laughed often and everyone left with a smile on their face. It was a magical experience seeing people such as Dali (Brody) and Picasso before they were famous. The setting was perfect, showing the contrast between modern Paris and the city as it was almost a century ago.

Wilson was as good as I have ever seen him in the role that Allen presumably would have played in his youth. I like Wilson’s quirky delivery and his character wasn’t too far removed from the one he played in The Darjeeling Limited. Gil enjoys defying expectations and isn’t understood by his friends and potential in-laws.

All of the acting impressed me and Sheen was just about perfect as the insufferable Paul. The story was imaginative and different, and not at all what I expected. I left the theater grinning and charmed by the whole story. Allen’s last Oscar came in 1987 when he won for Best Screenplay (Hannah and Her Sisters). I wouldn’t be surprised if Midnight in Paris received a couple of nominations, and he might just win a fourth Oscar.

If you enjoy Woody Allen at all, Midnight in Paris is well worth a trip to the theater. Its charm will draw you in and the dialogue will make you laugh.

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