Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen’s wild embracing of cities that are not New York City works for him very well. With his latest film Midnight in Paris, he has written a love poem to Paris that verges on pornography for francophiles. Or, more specifically, those with a healthy adoration of The City of Love. Somehow, Allen manages to capture the enchanting city, its art, its je ne sais quoi… in all its glory.
Romantic seems to not accurately describe Midnight although it forwardly acknowledges in plot and in dialogue the disappointments of romanticism itself. There’s a discussion (albeit one-sided) between two of Allen’s characters, played by Owen Wilson and Michael Sheen about an idea termed “golden age thinking,” a longing for a time outside of the present, where everything seems to have burned a little brighter. For Wilson’s character Gil, this is 1920s Paris.
This discussion of nostalgia lays the foundation for the fantastical experiences Gil begins having as at the stroke of midnight each night as he’s wandering the streets of Paris alone, a car picks him up and transports him back to that time. There he parties with Hemingway, has absurdist discussions with Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein gives him notes on the novel he’s writing (a novel which itself is about nostalgia), and stops Zelda Fitzgerald from jealously throwing herself into the Seine. But more importantly, he meets a lovely girl named Adrianna who seems to be approaching the end of her affair with Pablo Picasso.
If there was an ensemble cast to pay attention to, it’s here. There’s no shortage of Oscar winners, including Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Adrien Brody as Dali, and Marion Cotillard as the lovely Adrianna. Watching other fine actors such as Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston imitate these iconic and brilliant characters of history is endlessly charming. The first lady of France, Carla Bruni, even makes an appearance.
As ridiculously sentimental and idyllic as it all sounds, Allen’s best move was not to take it too far. Especially considering that there’s nothing deeper to this story than meets the eye. Like Chehkov’s gun, the discussion of the faults of nostalgia in the first act gently rears its head in the film’s ending–the best ending Allen could have written for his film. But I won’t spoil anything. Midnight in Paris is perfectly enchanting.