I absolutely adored Midnight in Paris and it’s possible that this adoration is blinding me to some tragic parts of the movie, but I can’t see them. I’m absolutely in love with this film and while for most movies I try to put myself in the shoes of the average movie goer I am not going to do this for Midnight in Paris. It was just too great for me to try to be objective.
Sometimes a movie just speaks to you, and maybe it doesn’t speak to everyone else. I’m not sure if Midnight in Paris will be as captivating for the rest of the world but for me it is easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year and one of Woody Allen’s best films of his career.
This movie is about Gil (Owen Wilson), who is engaged to be married to Inez (Rachel McAdams). Gil is a successful Hollywood screenwriter, but also a romantic who believes he should be writing novels that really mean something. Inez, to put it bluntly, is not. In the most cliche sense of romances they are clearly not made for each other. The pair are on a trip to Paris with Inez’s parents and one night Inez heads out with some friends and Gil strolls home through the streets of Paris until, at the stroke of midnight, he’s picked up by a car and a group of people straight out of the 1920s, the time period he most idolizes.
Turns out the car is actually from the 1920s and transports Gil back to that time where it so happens every great writer and artist and thinker in the world is hanging out in Paris and wants to hang out with him. It’s pretty much every writer’s dream to meet the likes of Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Dali (Adrian Brody), Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and many other brilliant writers from that time and Gil gets to meet them all as he starts a new love affair in the past with Adriana (Marion Cotillard). As things progress Gil finds himself torn between his idealized life in the past and his actual life in the future.
So that’s the plot, and I’m sure it already sounds pretty intriguing and original, but what the film is really about is love, romance and our perpetual romanticizing of the past. Every time Gil travels back in time and meets a new artist or writer they’re exactly like he (and we) imagine them to be. The screenplay is absolutely brilliant and has Hemingway talking like his novels, Fitzgerald and Zelda interacting like we always knew they would and every other artist who pops up (you better have your thinking cap on, a lot of names you should know pop up) being wonderfully created, idolized versions of themselves. And to top it off it’s all happening in Pars, the most romanticized city in the world.
What Allen does brilliantly with the film is keep a wonderful balance between commenting on our obsessions with the glorious past that just has to be so much better than the now we live in and being a romantic the entire time as well. The film should seemingly be a contradiction in itself considering it’s a romanticized love story taking place in Paris and at the same time attempting to tell us that we need to let go of these foolish notions that there was better time before us and yet it works. The contradiction doesn’t make the film fall apart, but instead holds it together by giving the audience something to relate to while still maintaining that childish wonder in love and romance that Allen is so adept at bringing forward when he wants to.
One great example of this is the opening sequence, which is an extended series of shots of Paris. Not romanticized shots, just shots of every day life in Paris. It shouldn’t be romantic and yet it’s Paris and even when it rains in Paris it seems romantic. Allen’s understanding of this is prevalent throughout the entire film and permeates through Gil’s adventures in his romanticized past. The movie magically speaks to you on so many levels that I was sad that I only go to screen it once.
Aside from all these deep thoughts on love and romanticism, which clearly hit a personal cord with me if you couldn’t tell, the film is actually quite charming and funny on its own accord. Allen’s screenplay works wonders by never sweating the big stuff (how does he time travel?) and focusing in on all the little details. It’s a classic Allen romance with a bit of time travel thrown in and it is simply charming beyond belief. I hesitate to bring up romanticism again, but a lot of it is from that.
And a lot of it is from Wilson, who begins the film scarily attempting to channel Woody Allen, but gets his footing as things progress and develops a character who is layered and complex — and funny. Meanwhile the rest of the stellar cast does their best to wonderfully send up the great names of the past while paying homage to them at the same time. The performances that have to be nuanced (Alison Pill’s Zelda) are wonderfully so and the ones that can simply be caricatures (Brody’s Salvador Dali) are totally amazing. Allen has a knack for pulling out very real performances from actors when he’s making a good movie, even when the roles call for some ludicrous behavior.
Its hard to explain how well this film and its characters connected to me and even harder to expand on why it did it. What I do know is that Woody Allen has made a film that is both charming and thoughtful. One of those rare movies that combines art and feeling and pulls you into it with your very soul. My advice for this weekend is to avoid the long lines for the absolutely soulless On Stranger Tides and find an arthouse theater that is playing Midnight in Paris. You won’t just be seeing a better movie, you’ll be coming out of it a happier person.