Movie review: ‘Midnight in Paris’

In theaters

“Midnight in Paris,” written and directed by Woody Allen, 94 minutes, rated PG-13.

Much like its title city, Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” has an irresistible allure, placing you in the heart of the most highly romanticized setting imaginable.

Owen Wilson gives one the most disarming performances of his career as Gil Pender, a kindhearted screenwriter-turned-novelist spending time in Paris with his controlling fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), while his future father-in-law works on business. Being in the city he loves ignites a spark in Gil – a yearning to uproot his life to Paris. More accurately, Gil longs for Paris in the 1920s.

One night, after turning down an invitation to go dancing with Inez and her friends Paul (Michael Sheen) and Carol (Nina Arianda), Gil finds himself lost on the streets of Paris trying to find his way back to the hotel. An antique car pulls up beside Gil, with passengers partying in the back, beckoning for him to join. He does, and soon finds himself talking to Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston), who introduce him to Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) among others.

The surreal moment strikes Gil with the sense of awe (as it should), but more than anything he’s filled with inspiration. His days are consumed by his novel (writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more), and at night he returns to the same spot, where a vintage ride pulls up to take him back to the roaring ’20s.

Inez becomes worried. Her parents find Gil to be weird, hiring a private investigator to follow him on his midnight strolls. But Gil feels more alive than ever – particularly after meeting Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a muse who has every artist of the era vying for her affection.

We’ve all pondered those hypothetical questions: “If you could be anywhere? Any time period? With any one?” Etc. etc. In exploring such queries, “Midnight in Paris” comes dangerously close to being a little too ludicrous and pretentious, but Allen successfully steers his film in the right direction, creating something that is far too likable to be either.

Much like Gil, Woody Allen is nostalgic at heart. We all are. We’d all like to drop in on a different time period that we feel an inexplicable connection to. Inez’s pedantic friend Paul points out the flaws in that mindset, mostly that it’s a form of denial. He’s right. But the romantic in us doesn’t care.

In Wilson, Allen finds that rare collaborator who can parlay his material into something that is neurotic yet strangely compatible with audiences. Allen has assembled an exceptional cast, as always, but it’s Wilson who fits the director’s comedic leading role like a glove. He’s a fountain of words and silly faces, and a master of that uncomfortable self-effacing humor. Best of all, he makes us laugh. It’s the type of performance that reminds us what a pleasure it is to watch Wilson when he’s at his best.

“Midnight in Paris” is escapism in its highest form – not like the sugar high you get from the soda pop Hollywood spits out, but more like a well-crafted wine. Cinematographer Darius Khondji (“Seven”) photographs the city with an understated beauty that blends reality with surreality – the everyday side of Paris and the mythological status built around it. Like the fabled side of the city, it’s easy to succumb to the charm of “Midnight in Paris.”

Grade: A

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