- Rated R
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All photos © Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
oody Allen is without a doubt the most prolific filmmaker working today (he's released a new movie almost every year since his 1966 debut), so it’s actually quite incredible that he’s still able to come up with new ideas, let alone good ones. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped critics from bemoaning the decline in the quality of his films over the years, even if he does manage to sneak in a good one every once and a while. But although Allen will probably never rekindle the magic of his earlier movies, he comes pretty close with "Midnight in Paris," a light and funny comedy that's easily his best film since "Match Point" and also somewhat of a return to form for the veteran writer/director.
Owen Wilson stars as Gil Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter who's taken a break from working on his first novel to go to Paris on vacation with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). But with Inez busy planning their wedding and hanging out with friends, Gil decides to explore the city for inspiration. After he gets lost while walking home one night and stumbles into a back alley at the stroke of midnight, Gil is invited into an antique car by some friendly strangers and magically transported to 1920s Paris where he mingles with literary heroes like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Gil has the time of his life, and returns the following night to continue his nostalgic adventure with the promise that Gertrude Stein will read his manuscript. But when he falls in love with a beautiful woman (Marion Cotillard) from the past, Gil is conflicted about returning to the present.
On the surface, “Midnight in Paris” may seem like just another Woody Allen comedy, but it also has shades of fantasy (like the “Cinderella”-esque plot device in reverse) and science fiction. Allen doesn’t really concern himself with the intricacies of time travel (Gil pretty much comes and goes as he pleases with no real consequences), but for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what he’s doing. It’s like a highbrow version of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” as filtered through Allen’s philosophies about love, life and the desire to reminisce about the past instead of looking ahead to the future. Gil isn’t as pessimistic or paranoid as most of Allen’s other protagonists, but he still has his quirks, particularly in his seemingly blind romanticizing of Paris. Then again, when Darius Khondji makes the city look as picturesque as it does here, it's easy to see why.
The film’s biggest strength, however, is the acting. Owen Wilson does a solid job of carrying the movie, and Rachel McAdams makes the most out of a fairly underwritten character, but it’s the supporting performances that really shine. Marion Cotillard is fantastic as the desirable muse who inspires Gil, Michael Sheen turns in a hilarious performance as Inez’s know-it-all friend, and Corey Stoll steals every scene he’s in with his comically deadpan portrayal of Hemingway. The rest of the historical figures are also played by well-known actors to great effect (like “Thor” star Tom Hiddleston as Fitzgerald, Alison Pill as his wife Zelda, Kathy Bates as Stein, and Adrian Brody as a wildly enthusiastic Salvador Dali), and it’s a testament to Allen’s reputation as a director (and to a lesser degree, a writer) that he was able to land such great talent for such small roles. He may be more hit-and-miss nowadays with his movies, but as he proves with “Midnight in Paris,” he's still capable of making a great comedy when he wants.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Woody Allen fans will likely be disappointed by Sony’s Blu-ray release of “Midnight in Paris,” which includes only one actual special feature – a five-minute Q&A from the film’s press conference at the Cannes Film Festival – and a photo gallery and trailer.