Star Rating: 3/5
<<guest review by KJF>>
Woody Allen’s popularity at the Box Office has waned of late; some of his recent films didn’t even get a UK distribution. The glory days of Annie Hall and Manhattan seem a long time ago. This, however, is set to change with his delightful romantic fantasy, Midnight In Paris. Owen Wilson (The Royal Tennenbaums, The Wedding Crashers, Little Fockers) plays Gil, a screenwriter who has given up the day-job to write The Big Novel. He’s spending time in Paris with his high-maintenance fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams – Mean Girls, The Notebook, State of Play), and her parents, all the while looking for inspiration. Wandering the streets late at night, Gil finds himself transported back to the Parisian world of the 1920s .
Allen’s film is a loving homage to Paris. The opening scenes are wordless shots of the city’s famous sites, accompanied by a jazz soundtrack. It also has gentle digs at the tourist culture it has spawned, particularly the behaviour of Americans in Paris: the brash types who just want to shop, eat and don’t bother attempting to learn the language, or know-alls who like to preen around celebrated cultural artefacts and spout off all they know. The latter is wonderfully encapsulated in Michael Sheen’s (The Deal, The Queen, Frost/Nixon) performance as the pompous academic, Paul.
When Gil finds himself in the 1920s, almost everyone he encounters is a famous face from the time. In fact, Allen unleashes a whole parade of illustrious writers and artists from the period, along with a series of knowing in-jokes as they interact with Gil. There’s, for instance, a brooding Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll – Law & Order:LA), a youthful F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston – Archipelago, Thor, The Avengers Assemble). Gil even gets the majestic Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates – Misery, Titanic, Alice) to read a draft of his novel. This is overall a wonderful set-up, and Wilson travels through it with engagingly wide-eyed delight. It does occasionally feel a bit schematic as we are introduced from one artistic type to the next, without finding out that much about them. The 1920s scenes, though, are joyously shot whether we’re led through the wonderfully nourish streets or experiencing the lovingly realised parties, full of dancing and Cole Porter songs.
Gil also comes across the beautiful Adriana. She’s played by Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, Inception, Contagion) playing another variant on the ‘dream woman’ as seen in Inception. Naturally he falls in love with her, and finds himself conflicted between the ironically ‘old world’ of 2010 and the beautiful ‘golden age’ of the 1920s.
As if just to dazzle us with famous names of the past wasn’t enough, Allen drops into a film a living famous name, in the shape of Carla Bruni, wife of the current French President, Nicholas Sarkozy. She cameos as a rather restrained museum guide. A little casting quirk, which is delightful to spot, but doesn’t add much to the story.
Are Gil’s time-travel exploits just occurring in his head as he seeks to find himself a direction in life? Is the theme of the film that we are all seeking our own personal ‘golden ages’? We are left to ponder these questions. Yet, the journey Allen conjures up is so infectiously entertaining that in the end they don’t really matter.