Midnight in Paris (2011)
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates
Synopsis: While on a trip to Paris with his fiancÃ©e’s family, a nostalgic screenwriter finds himself mysteriously going back to the 1920s every day at midnight.
The thing about Woody Allen is that his writing voice is so unique that, when he employs another actor to serve as his on-screen alter ego they invariably end up looking and sounding like a pale imitation of the man himself. There’s little doubt that a younger Woody would have taken the lead role In Midnight in Paris, but at 76 he’s way too old (and thankfully knows it) so the part went to Owen Wilson, a blonde, All-American type who bears more of a resemblance to Robert Redford than Woody. Wilson acquits himself pretty well, but one thing he lacks is charisma, which serves as a strength in the film’s modern sequences and a weakness in those which take place in 1920s Paris. Nevertheless, although Allen doesn’t appear, Midnight in Paris is unmistakeably a Woody Allen movie.
Wilson plays Gil Pender, a successful Hollywood screenwriter struggling to write his first novel, who is holidaying in Paris with his bitchy fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdam) and her disapproving parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). Gil’s dissatisfaction is completed by the appearance of Paul (Michael Sheen), an obnoxious pseudo-intellectual who seems to be an expert on all topics. While Gil sees right through him, Inez admires Paul immensely. When Inez decides to go dancing with Paul and his partner, Gil chooses to walk home and finds himself lost just as midnight chimes. A vintage car pulls up, and a bunch of partygoers in 1920s clothing invite him inside. The party go on to a bar, and it’s not long before Gil realises that he has somehow been transported back to the Paris of the 1920s, and is in the company of such legendary characters as F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Zelda (Alison Pill), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates).
Allen’s evocation of a 1920s Paris populated by a generation both lost and golden is a typically nostalgic one, bathed in the warmth of a golden filter. But then so are the modern-day sequences, a device which reinforces Allen’s message that all times are golden, that one day the present day will be looked back upon as a golden era by a future generation. I guess it boils down to a pedestrian ‘live for the moment’ message, but Allen bypasses the mundaneness of such a message by infusing the story with his usual wit and intelligence. The difference between the past and present in Midnight in Paris is that all the famous characters of the past too often speak as if they possess some inherent awareness of their place and importance in history, while those in the present do not. In fact, the shallowness and misplaced ideals of all but Gil in the present day grows a little wearing after a while, leaving you to wonder just how right Allen is when he suggests that Paris of the 1920s is no better a time than any other in history. After all, different criteria and perspectives will inevitably produce opposing opinions.