Ah, Paris. Je t’aime. Je t’adore—Paris, I love you. I adore you.
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris gives us Gil Pender, an American writer visiting the magical city with his fiancée, Inez, and her parents, for whom the preceding sentiments hold true—perhaps even more so than Gil’s feelings for his betrothed.
A screenwriter from California, Gil has thus far made a successful living writing for the movies. But finding his creative juices stifled by his work, he decides to try his hand at writing a novel, a path Inez views as a somewhat foolish detour from a lucrative career.
Nor does Inez share Gil’s fascination with the “city of lights,” declaring, when Gil proposes that they live in Paris after their marriage, “I could never live outside of the United States!” Gil’s starry-eyed romanticism and Inez’ currency-driven myopia are clear to the viewer from the start. In fact, it’s difficult to see what the two ever saw in each other, aside from Inez’ attraction to Gil’s wallet—pre-novel, that is.
Once the couple meet with Inez’ friends from the States (a truly awful “pseudo-intellectual” and his fawning wife), Gil leaps at the chance to foist Inez off on her friends as he explores Paris on foot. In a fantastical (and possibly fever-induced) midnight occurrence, Gil finds himself transported to the Paris of his dreams, in the roaring 20’s, where he befriends the likes of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Ernest Hemmingway, among others. In fact, after an introduction by Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein agrees to review Gil’s new novel.
Along the way, Gil continues his reverie, convinced that life was better in the past, and even believing he has found love with a paramour of Pablo Picasso. Meanwhile, he moves farther and farther from real life and Inez.
Ultimately, Gil comes to realize that everyone in every age idealizes the past—that time we can view selectively through the lens of our present. And while no age is perfect, our chances at happiness lie in following our hearts and seizing our moments in our own time.
Midnight in Paris is a sweet bit of fluff filled with glorious views of France’s beguiling city. However, billed as a romantic comedy, it’s sprinkled with a few chuckles, yet hardly comedic. Owen Wilson is engaging, if a bit sappy, as Gil, a dreamer trying to find himself in his own imagination, while Rachael McAdams plays contrary to type as the biting Inez.
With a star-spangled cast, the movie showcases fun performances, yet it never felt to me like anything but an over-lauded director’s exercise in indulging a fantasy in which he gives parts to all of his friends. (I’m sure Kathy Bates had fun playing Gertrude Stein, as did Adrian Brody doing his own Salvatore Dali. I’m just not sure I believed it.)
I’ve never understood all the fuss over Woody Allen and Midnight in Paris doesn’t clarify the issue. The film is a lovely stroll through an even lovelier city, but it doesn’t exactly cover new ground, even given, or because of, fantastical encounters with the protagonist’s literary and artistic heroes which influence his take on his own life.
Yet, the movie is up for Oscars in categories including Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay and Best Art Direction. The Art Direction I get. The rest? Not so much.
If you’re catching up on Oscar nominated movies before next week’s telecast, other films (The Artist, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, War Horse, The Help) are far more worthy of your time and attention. But if you’re feeling the need for a mid-winter trip abroad, Midnight in Paris offers a mini-tour of France’s most famous city. Rent the film now and you won’t even have to leave your couch.
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