Directed by Woody Allen
Opening with roughly five minutes of Paris’ most scenic locales accompanied by what sounds like what could only be Allen’s own clarinet, we then meet the two main characters as they’re sightseeing in Paris. At first, it seems like “Midnight in Paris” is going to be another “foreigners abroad” movie with the unnatural dialogue and wooden delivery we’ve seen in too many of Allen’s recent movies, but once Owen Wilson’s Gil finds himself transported back to the Paris of the ’20s, that’s where the movie really finds its footing, and Allen’s brilliance comes to the fore. After acclimating to the situation, Gil meets the beautiful Adriana (Marion Cotillard), an “artist groupie” in a relationship with Picasso, and he becomes quite smitten with her, giving him more excuses to keep traveling back in time to the past. Inez’s father (Kurt Fuller) becomes suspicious of Gil’s disappearances so he sends a detective after him.
Owen Wilson has had a couple of lean years with one dog after another (quite literally), but he’s perfectly cast for the role of an American writer caught up in the romanticism of Paris. Allen gets Wilson’s best performance outside his movies with Wes Anderson. While many of Allen’s recent films have had solid ensemble casts, this cast thrives on one of his strongest scripts with Paris bringing out some of Allen’s best writing in years with much of the dialogue being as good as Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise/Sunset.”
The actors playing historical figures really deliver, particularly Corey Stoll’s charismatic Ernest Hemingway, a character with so much screen presence, you almost wish he’d be spun-off into his own movie. Adrien Brody’s caricature of Salvador Dali is quite amusing, while Tom Hiddleston and Allison Pill make for a fun and quirky Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and Kathy Bates is perfect as Gertrude Stein. It’s this great casting that makes the scenes with Gil in the ’20s where the film thrives, especially as Gil figures out how to get closer to Adriana and Allen, which throws a rather clever twist into the works. Having so many characters from history should also give literary buffs the thrill of seeing how Allen may have depicted them if he ever wrote a historical biopic.
For once, Rachel McAdams isn’t the best thing going in a movie in which she appears, as she gives a relatively weak performance comparatively, maybe because there isn’t a lot to her character. Instead, Allen invests all of his ability at creating strong female characterizations into Cotillard, who makes every movie better with her presence.
Even if the modern-day scenes aren’t that inventive, at least there’s a funny scene where Wilson tries to talk himself out of a tough situation, which one can only imagine Allen pulled from his own experience. Other than some of the clunkier modern-day scenes, the film’s other weakness is Allen’s unimaginative score, essentially using the same two or three pieces of music rather than getting a real composer to take the material to another level.
Otherwise, there are far more layers and stronger themes in “Midnight” than many of Allen’s other recent work, specifically about the travails of living in the past rather than the present – more than a little ironic for those who complain about Allen’s recent output. Either way, fans of Woody Allen’s clever sense of humor should appreciate “Midnight in Paris” as one of his more satisfying recent efforts.