Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates
Plot: An American’s visit to Paris has far-reaching consequences for his relationship, after he discovers a different world when he starts going for a midnight stroll.
Wouldn’t we all love to go back in time and see what it was like in a bygone age? To be able to wander around a city at a particular point in time and meet famous, perhaps long gone, people who changed the world in their own way, is a dream for many. But why do we have such a fascination with the past? Being nostalgic is human nature – we tend to look back on years gone by and long to go back and revisit them in an attempt to reawaken past feelings. Midnight in Paris explores such themes, but combines them with a time-travel element that doesn’t involve a DeLorean.
Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, an American holidaying in Paris with his fiancée Inez (McAdams), both of whom have tagged along with Inez’s father John (Kurt Fuller). who is there mainly on business, and her mother Helen (Mimi Kennedy). Gil is a Hollywood screenwriter, who yearns for something more than a more than comfortable life, living among the plush houses of Beverly Hills. He is struggling to develop a nostalgic novel set in an antique shop which is played down by the dismissive Inez – Gil fancies a move to Paris while Inez would prefer to go to Malibu. They meet up with Inez’s friends Paul (Michael Sheen) and Carol (Nina Arianda). Paul is a pseudo intellectual who thinks he knows more about wine than anyone else and more French history than the tour guide – Gil finds him a total bore, making his excuses one night so he can escape Paul’s constant inane witterings and walk the streets alone.
On one corner, a drunk Gil sits down and ponders for a while, until a nearby clock strikes twelve, a 1920s car pulls up and the occupants offer him a lift. They drive him to a bar where he suddenly realises that he has actually been transported back in time. He meets such cultural luminaries as Cole Porter (Yves Heck), F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddlestone) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll). Hemingway agrees to show Gil’s unfinished novel to Gertrude Stein (Bates) and he leaves to fetch his script but finds that he is back in the present-day. He tries to bring Inez with him the following night, but after a long wait she leaves just before the clock strikes midnight – right on cue he is picked up once again by a vintage car. This time he is taken by Hemingway to see Stein who agrees to read his novel, but there Gil also meets Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) and his mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard), with whom Gil becomes enamoured. As he repeatedly returns to this most bewildering yet fascinating world, Gil begins to realise what the past means to him as well as what the future should hold.
Woody Allen’s whistle-stop tour of Europe continues after Match Point (2005) and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) with Midnight in Paris, which has a very different approach to the previous two. On this occasion, it’s not about strong characters jockeying for position – instead the onus is on Owen Wilson’s, laid-back proxy-Woody Allen character Gil (cue the struggling writer) to discover a path that leads from the past to the future. A fantastic premise delivers initially, as we are treated to a wonderful pastiche of Paris with a familiar jazz soundtrack followed by the introduction of an ensemble cast brimming with star names. After we settle back into the Allenesque witticisms we know so well, the plot takes a significant change in direction, as our protagonist finds himself in the 1920s. Instead of feeling the same wonder and excitement as Gil, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that he had stumbled across a costume party as opposed to actually travelling back in time. This sets the tone for the film – a sense that the famous people he meets are part of some celebrity-by-numbers game instead of constructing a storyline that manages to leave you in awe.
Owen Wilson is well-cast as Gil – his enthusiasm as he meets his heroes is palpable, although his style is laid-back as always, Wilson consistently makes his characters instantly likeable – and here is no exception. Rachel McAdams makes a good whiny fiancée, while a virtually unrecognisable Michael Sheen as the obnoxious Paul once again proves his ability to brilliantly play every version of bad guy imaginable. The supporting cast in both time periods provide plenty of amusement – Kurt Fuller and Carla Bruni in the present day terrifically complement Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard and Adrien Brody in the so-called ‘golden age’. Woody Allen’s direction oozes with a love and respect for this most romantic of cities, especially the opening few minutes but also by employing a dreamlike quality, most notably seen in Vicky Cristina.
Midnight in Paris is an enjoyable film which is well-directed and acted. What it seriously lacks though is a truly engaging script which is full of energy and a high degree of admiration. This is a real shame considering the amount of acclaim it has received – whether Woody Allen is able capture the magic of Manhattan (1979) again remains to be seen, but he certainly hasn’t managed to do it here.