Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams
I’m pleased to report that, with Midnight in Paris, the veteran filmmaker is back on fine form
When successful but unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter Gil (Wilson) returns to Paris to finish his novel with his girlfriend (McAdams) and her overbearing parents in tow, he wants nothing more than to recapture the inspirational atmosphere of the city in the 1920’s, in the rain. But when his dreams suddenly come true and he’s whisked back in time, will Gil be able to make the most of this amazing opportunity?
Despite turning 76 this year, Woody Allen remains a movie-making machine, churning out a one a year like clockwork since the 1980’s. It’s a remarkable accomplishment for the writer/director but recent years have seen the quality of the work dip significantly with the likes of Match Point and last year’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Well I’m pleased to report that, with Midnight in Paris, the veteran filmmaker is back on fine form.
It may not match his seminal work of the 70’s and 80’s but Midnight in Paris is a charming production, anchored perfectly by leading man Wilson. I’m generally ambivalent about Wilson’s prowess as an actor and he does little enough to change that opinion here. But his natural awkwardness, coupled with Allen’s words and mannerisms and his oddly handsome looks work wonders for the character of Gil. He remains a clear analogue for Allen but without the hyper whiny tone and shrunken appearance, he’s much more likeable as a character.
After Wilson, the other main star is Paris herself. Shot chiefly at night by cinematographer Darius Khondji, it’s a place awash with colour and life, yet still retains a feeling of what it’s like to be a tourist there, without descending into needless stereotypes. The time travelling portions of the film give the crew even more chances to experiment with style and period detail, creating a fairytale version of the city that’s a joy to visit.
The visits to the past are handled deftly by Allen – without any real explanation and merely serving as an excuse to pepper the film with everyone from Hemingway to Picasso, Dali and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The historical figures appear as outlandish but entertaining caricatures – Hemingway constantly seeks out fistfights while a starry eyed Dali (played by Adrien Brody) becomes obsessed with the word ‘rhinoceros’. It’s in a meeting between Gil, Dali, Man Ray and Luis Bunuel that the displaced American attempts to explain his situation, which the surrealists accept with a knowing nod.
It’s moments of self aware humour like this that have been missing from Allen’s recent work, and toying with time and beloved figures from history gives him ample opportunity to flex his cerebral muscle. By comparison, the drama between Gil and McAdams’ Inez is a little more dull, though it’s enlightened by the presence of Michael Sheen’s smarmy academic type.
Midnight in Paris is a film about wishful thinking, about a man who gets the chance to live in his ideal time and realises it’s really not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s not the most awe-inspiring lesson ever imparted but it is a charmingly presented, pleasantly performed and often very funny love letter to Paris – now and in the rain…