MIDNIGHT IN PARIS Review

by     Posted 3 years, 82 days ago

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I can’t remember the last time Woody Allen made a film as delightful as Midnight in Paris.  He’s certainly done it before and it’s not one of his comedy classics like Annie Hall and Sleeper, but Midnight in Paris is undoubtedly one of Woody Allen’s best films of the past ten years.  It’s the rare Allen comedy where he doesn’t insert an Allen-like neurotic character, and the script finds inventive ways to be funny and thoughtful.  Johanne Debas and Darius Khondji’s cinematography is gorgeous, the film is filled with wonderful performances where you can tell that all of the actors are having a marvelous time, and Allen brings it all together with a joy rarely seen in his movies these days.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is having a miserable time in one of the most beautiful cities in the world: Paris.  He’s a screenwriter who’s struggling to finish his novel, his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) seems more enamored of her pretentious friend Paul (Michael Sheen) than she does of Gil, and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) hate Gil and think he’s cheap.  But none of that bothers him as much as the fact that he feels like he living in the wrong time.  When he walks around the museums and gardens of Paris, he takes in the beauty, but it also provides him with nostalgia for the 1920s and all the amazing writers and artists he never met.

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Despondent and a little drunk, Gil wanders the streets of Paris alone at midnight.  As he passes one particular street, an old-time motorcar offers to give him a lift.  He gets in and suddenly finds himself party talking up F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Zelda (Alison Pill) while Cole Porter (Yves Heck) plays the piano.  Gil slowly realizes that he’s somehow been transported back to the Paris of the 1920s and that he has the rare opportunity to talk to his literary heroes about his book.  Matters become slightly more complicated when he starts to fall for Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a costume designer and a muse for giants like Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo).

There’s a charming simplicity at the heart of Midnight in Paris and it comes from the  question of what would you do if you could go back in time and live in a world that you thought was better than your own?  Allen doesn’t try to recreate the 1920s as they actually were (this isn’t Boardwalk Empire), but rather as Gil imagines it and that everyone is larger than life.  Stoll almost steals the movie with his bombastic impersonation of a young Ernest Hemingway while Adrien Brody gets amusingly strange as he plays the eccentricities of Salvador Dalí.  And as for Wilson, I can’t remember the last time I saw him exuding such immeasurable joy and personality into a role, and I applaud both him and Allen for not making Gil the standard neurotic Woody Allen surrogate character.

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The movie pulls the majority of its entertainment value from watching Gil have fun with his 20th century artistic heroes (the rest of it comes from Michael Sheen’s performance), but it also has a thoughtful exploration at its core about artistic creation, inspiration, and criticism.  There’s a couple of simple observations like how the people who inspired us to be creative can inspire us to lead better lives through their art, and how nostalgia always makes people think an earlier time was better (Gil even remakes on the latter, “I’m having an insight!  It’s a minor one…”), but the idea I found most interesting was about the relationship between the critic and the creator.

Since I’m a critic, that should come as no surprise and neither should the fact that Allen sides with the creative.  It’s not that the film condemns criticism.  The constructive criticism Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) gives Gil on his manuscript is invaluable as are the life lessons he gets from all his other idols and Adriana.  But the ignorant, pompous criticism of Paul is where Allen clearly takes issue.  While the script veers a little too close to “Only the artist has the correct interpretation of their work,” Allen keeps it above water by letting us know that Paul is wrong not because he has an opinion on art, but because it’s an uninformed opinion that willfully ignores history and context.

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Woody Allen’s comedies are always at their best when they have a thoughtful idea at the middle and the revelation of that idea isn’t too heavy-handed.  He’s had some trouble with that formula in recent years, but he gets the mixture almost completely right with Midnight in Paris.  Even if you don’t want to engage in the subtext, you’ll be swept up in the performances and ache to live in the artist’s dream city of Paris (although I recommend staying out of the 17th century).

Rating: A-

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  • Castor

    Such a delightful little comedy. Smart and funny, a great time indeed.

    • Jean

      I agree that the film is beautiful, but Woody Allen has not outgrown the same old tired sexual politics that are evident in his films from the 70s!! For example, the main character is encouraged to get with the enlightened French romantic ways when he is told that a man may love 2 women for their different attributes, HOWEVER, the women in the film who have more than one love interest are conveyed in a negative light (the unlikeable fiance that has an affair with the pedantic guy or the woman that has ultimately unsatisfying relationships with multiple men). Woody – I hate to tell you this – but “what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”. Please, at long last, EVOLVE!!!

  • Jymmy Scheibli aka jymmymack

    Spot on review. What I liked about the film is that Allen managed to hold back his cynical tendencies without dipping too far into happily ever after territory. He struck a perfect balance between whimsy, humor, and the bittersweet follies of human nature.

    • Laura

      Jymmy, I just saw Midnight in Paris for the first time this afternoon and loved it! Your comment captures the impression that I had after seeing the movie perfectly! “He struck a perfect balance between whimsy, humor and the bittersweet follies of human nature.”

  • Robert Braun

    You meant 18th Century Paris, didn’t you?

    • Matt Goldberg

      I thought [spoiler alert] the detective ended up in the court of Louis XIV, which would have likely been sometime in the 1600s.

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  • jane grau

    Whatdya mean no Allen-like character? Gill even wears the same clothes Woody Allen wears in real life! “Midnight” is lovely and pleasant, and the English and art majors in the audience were tickled, but he plot, setting, and characters were stock. Read Allen’s “Kugelmass Episode” to see where this movie came from — it features a NYC English professor who’s disillusioned with life and finds a way to be transported into the novel “Mme. Bovary,” where he and Emma fall in love and get transported together to an unhappy ending. See “Manhattan” for the model for being in love with a city and for uber-intellectuals versus philistines. I could list more. SHame on you, you should know your Allen better.

  • Louis Tanguay

    Excellent review! I don’t usually find intelligent and insightful reviews these days (especially online), but I am very happy to have found an exception here! Well done, Mr. Goldberg. I loved the film, and your review of it helped me discover some plot and theme nuances I didn’t consciously pick up on.

    Great work! I wish you did sports blogging, because my sports site could use some more intelligent writers! :)

  • Rachael

    Do not see this movie it was terrible. I love Woody Allen and think he is hilarious but this was definitely not one of his greatest pieces of work. It was boring and was confusing at times. I especially didn’t like the ending because it felt like it was stopping in the middle. Sorry for being a party pooper. :(
    It was supposed to be a romantic comedy but I didn’t see any comedy in it. It was very boring. Nothing against Woody Allen I love him. :)

  • Rachael

    I hated this movie especially the end. It was super boring, confusing, and when it ended it felt like it was ending in the middle of the movie. But I think this blog only posts the good comments (I have noticed this after reading all the comments and not finding a single bad one), so this probably won’t be posted.

  • Bill Bloomfield

    Great film and a spot on review ! My wife and I have been talking non-stop about the plot, the characters, and the actors. Bravo !

  • judi

    LOOOVED this movie…. great review too…. although a spoiler alert should have been posted… love the theme of “these are the good ole days” and the sights of paris… also loved the art and literature references.. my college degree finally paid off! lol…. real fun and clever storyline… ok, so it wasn’t totally original and not overly funny but so well done and enjoyable….touche woody!

  • Mary Barrett

    If you liked Groundhog Day, you’ll love Midnight in Paris.

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