Midnight in Paris is the latest offering from the prolific writer/director Woody Allen, but if his work isn’t generally to your taste, don’t let that put you off, because he isn’t actually in this film, and because it’s written to have universal appeal, especially if you’ve ever fantasized about sipping espresso (or whiskey) with Hemingway in a tiny Left Bank cafe.
The movie opens with scenes of Paris, making it very clear that not only is the film a love song to the City of Light, but that the city is an integral character in the film. We are soon introduced to California screen writer and would-be novelist Gil (Owen Wilson) and his superficial fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) who are vacationing in Paris with her parents, Tea-Party Republicans played to anti-intellectual perfection by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy.
While touring the city, Gil and Inez run into her ex-professor Paul (in a deliciously smarmy and pedantic performance by Michael Sheen) and Carol (Nina Arianda). The two couples quickly become joined at the hip, and continue their explorations in and around Paris together. Inez is obviously fascinated with every word coming from Paul’s mouth, and Gil’s opinions are either brushed aside or mocked.
Fed up, Gil separates himself from the rest of the group, and goes for a midnight walkabout while Inez goes dancing with Paul and Carol. He is beckoned into a period automobile by a group of drunk French-speaking party-goers, and winds up in 1920′s Paris – the era he considers to be the city’s Golden Age – hanging with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) among others.
As Gil becomes more and more entangled with the artists and writers of the past, his life in the present becomes increasingly unsatisfying, but this movie, is, after all, a romantic comedy, and ultimately the light moral running through it is made obvious: we must all make our own Golden Age.
While some of the modern political commentary in this film may date it sooner rather than later, the bulk of the movie is a delightful fantasy tripping merrily through several ages and many Paris locations. Fans of good literature (and English majors) will enjoy the 1920′s literati inserted into the film, while art buffs will get a kick out of the presence of Picasso and Dali among the characters.
If you’ve ever been to Paris, this movie will make you wish you could return. If you’ve never been to Paris, this film will send you directly to the airplane ticket vendor of your choice, to dream, if not to buy. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll leave the theater longing to curl up with your favorite Hemingway novel, or wishing you were sipping absinthe in an obscure bar near Montmartre.
Midnight in Paris is rated PG-13 and has been playing across the U.S. in limited release since May 11th. Check the listings for your local art cinema.