Midnight In Paris (2011)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

       

Starring:  Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux, Michael Sheen, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Nina Arianda, Kathy Bates, Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, Corey Stoll, Carla Bruni, Adrien Brody, Tom Cordier, Adrien de Van, Gad Elmalah.
___________________________

Director:  Woody Allen
Rating:  PG-13
Running Time:  94 Mins.
Release Date:  May 20, 2011
Home Video Release Date:  December 20, 2011
Box Office: $56.6 Million
___________________________

Vendome Pictures, Playtone, and Universal Pictures.

Written by:  Woody Allen.

 

“What is it with this city?  I need to write a letter to the Chamber of Commerce!”- Gil Pender (Owen Wilson). 

Even the most ardent detractors of Woody Allen’s filmmaking and writing would have to begrudge Allen success with his beautiful and endearing “Midnight In Paris.”  Consistently delivering a movie or so each year since the mid-1970’s, “Paris” serves as Allen’s 41st directorial effort and he has not been this dialed in, or as sharp, in years.

Allen stays behind the camera and turns leading man duties over to Owen Wilson for his romantic and worldly comedy.  Wilson plays Gil Pender, a wealthy and successful Hollywood screenwriter traveling to Paris to vacation for a couple of weeks with his fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her pompous parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy).  As Inez’s father is looking to broker a business deal, Inez has grown bored and tiresome of a city which Gil can’t take in enough of.  Meeting up with an old professor, Paul (Michael Sheen), who is lecturing in town with his wife, Carol (Nina Arianda), Inez can tolerate the city just enough to listen to Paul wax philosophical on the architecture, history, and cultural elements of Paris.  Gil just wants to write.

Gil is, and has been, a successful screenwriter and yet he is completely unsatisfied writing simple and unchallenging Hollywood screenplays.  His attentions have turned to writing his first novel, a closely guarded work that Inez has never seen or read, and Gil struggles to let go of.  Paris, a place where Gil lived once before, has stirred up his creativity and his passion for life.  And meanwhile, Inez just wants the trip to be over so she can return home to her wealthy and more structured Americanized life.

When Gil balks on a night of dancing and partying with Inez, Paul, and Carol, he opts to wander through the Parisian night.  Tired and still working on a healthy buzz from his drinks at dinner, Gil sits down on some church steps and starts to nod off.  When the clock hits midnight and the church bells clang him awake, a vehicle pulls up and Gil’s life takes an unexpected and magical turn.

Although the film has become quite popular, I still wish to refrain from detailing the unexpected twists and turns that Gil encounters after stepping into that vehicle.  Although to fully praise “Midnight In Paris”, you kind of have to spoil some of the details.  Nonetheless, I will refrain, as much of the joy with “Midnight In Paris” comes in these  surprising moments.  Allow me this disclosure – a freshening up on famous cultural and literary figures might serve thee well.

From its travelogue beginnings, with engaging jazz music settling in comfortably behind gorgeous shots of Paris, Woody Allen feels important and perhaps relevant again as a filmmaker.  Casting Owen Wilson was, as it turns out, an expert move and he delivers the finest performance of his career.  Wilson exhibits a boyish charm and excitement, as well as a wondrous fascination with every moment happening in and around him.  I simply smiled and hung on his every word and reaction.

Allen, always able to line up a stellar ensemble of actors for his projects, finds gold with the work of Oscar winners Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, and Adrien Brody, as well as additional supporting turns from the aforementioned Sheen, Fuller, and Kennedy.  Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, and Lea Seydoux are memorable, but most impressive is Corey Stoll, who nearly steals the film from underneath everyone with his terrific take as a rambunctious and feisty Ernest Hemingway (spoiler there – oops…).  The First Lady of the French Republic, Carla Bruni, even makes a cameo as a knowledgeable tour guide who has a great exchange with Sheen’s know-it-all Paul.

The only glaring flaw comes in the somewhat strained believability that Gil and Inez are even together, much less engaged to be married.  Rachel McAdams does the best she can with Inez, a role that exists merely as a plot device and fails to lift off of the page in a real or tangible way.

And yet in acknowledging the one main flaw with the film, I found myself loving it more and more as each moment dissolved into the next.  “Midnight In Paris” is as focused and engaged a film as Woody Allen has made in recent memory, and I, for one, am thrilled.  Allen, for the last decade or so, has been largely overlooked, and as his films have waned in popularity, his gifts have been taken for granted.  “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” did earn Penelope Cruz a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2008, but nothing he has done has really seemed to resonate much.  That changes here.

Beginning with Wilson’s brilliant performance, to the wonderful dialogue and terrific supporting cast, to the meticulous set design and costumes, to the picturesque cinematography by Darius Khondji and Johanne Debas, and to the idyllic landscapes and soundscapes Allen interweaves into the production, “Midnight In Paris” is sentimental, reflective, and as inspiring as it is charming.  Easily this is one of 2011’s most wonderful surprises.

Should I See It?

YES

The film is so entertaining and sentimental that it is downright impossible to not get swept up in its whimsical tone and wonderful surprises.  Even those who recoil from Woody Allen films should give this a chance.  You will be richly rewarded.

The performance by Owen Wilson is the best of his career and the interplay between he and the terrific assemblage of supporting players is a joy to watch.  Wilson especially shines in his scenes with Oscar winner Marion Cotillard.

The film is an absolute love letter to Paris, in its travelogue beginnings, its artful backdrops, and the images which Allen’s cinematographers pull from the landscape.  As enjoyable as the story happens to be, this is one of, if not the most visually impressive films of Allen’s career.

NO

The characters of Rachel McAdams and her parents are a bit unbelievable in how they are positioned within the story.  For some, all of the charm and whimsical qualities may be lost if McAdams’ Inez proves to be too much of a distraction.

When the film incorporates its twist, the film becomes a different type of romantic comedy and if you are not ready for all of the elements the twist throws at you in scene after scene, you may be distracted in trying to understand how all of the characters fit in Gil’s story and what purpose they happen to serve.

You have no desire in seeing Woody Allen films of any kind – whether he is starring in them or not.  Even though this is a much more accessible and endearing film than he has made in recent years, for some viewers there are no words that will change the fact that people don’t care about Allen’s work anymore.  Personally, I find that a shame.