Bewitching, beguiling, and bedazzling, Midnight in Paris is a warm, effortless European valentine; an optimistic exercise in wish-fulfillment; a fizzy fantasy with all the effervescence of vintage champagne. Witty and featherlight, it’s a time-travelling comedy that’s marvellously romantic and wistfully funny.
Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a Hollywood screenwriter, and his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), are vacationing in Paris. Gil is struggling to finish his first novel, but Inez dismisses his ambition as a romantic daydream. By chance, they are joined by Inez’s friend Paul (Michael Sheen) who is both pedantic and a pseudo-intellectual. When Gil realizes he has been transported back to the 1920s, he encounters F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), who takes him to meet Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), who agrees to show Gil’s novel to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), who introduces him to Pablo Picasso and his mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard).
In a film ripe with temptations for posturing, exaggeration, and satirical overacting, nobody is anything less than naturally unpretentious. Wilson (Wedding Crashers, Fantastic Mr. Fox) bends his own recognizably nasal Texan drawl into an exaggerated pattern of staccatos and glissandos that’s obviously modelled on writer-director Woody Allen’s near-musical verbal cadences. In felicitous comic turns, the ensemble makes the most of the material that works, and makes the best of the rest of it.
Buoyed by its befuddled hero’s enchantment, Midnight in Paris manages to rise above its tidy parable structure and be easy, laid-back, graceful, and glancingly insightful, qualities that make it embraceable. At 75, Allen (Hannah and Her Sisters, Husbands and Wives) maintains a concision and spry pace, even if something less than impeccable craft hobbles the editing and design. Although Darius Khondji’s cinematography evokes to the hilt the gorgeously inviting Paris of people’s imaginations, Midnight in Paris acknowledges the disappointment that shadows every genuine expression of romanticism. Allen’s sense of humour prizes cultural literacy.
Frothy, larky, and bountiful, Midnight in Paris is a lovely jaunt, an unassuming wisp of a movie that doubles as a hymn to a beautiful city. It’s also a treat for anyone who has ever dreamed of bantering about the cinema with Luis Buñuel or lounging at the piano to hear Cole Porter sing “Let’s Do It.” A fanciful French cousin to Allen’s Zelig and The Purple Rose of Cairo, Midnight in Paris is an absolute delight, like a swoony lost chapter from Paris, je t’aime agreeably extended to feature length. It’s the best Allen film in more than a decade.
Of course Midnight in Paris is among Allen’s among his least consequential efforts: it’s pure meringue, sweet and melting; a disposable trifle, as flavourful and as thin as a crepe; a rich dessert appealingly layered with cake, jam, and cream. It skips the classic charm of Annie Hall and the articulate depth of Manhattan. It’s a breeze, a bonbon, a bauble, even if it’s a jolly one. Yet Allen eventually gets to the heart of the matter: reckoning with the past, the allure and danger of rose-coloured reflection.
Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, but why not idolize the writers and pioneers and groovy artists of the Lost Generation? Go in blind, and let Midnight in Paris gobsmack you into euphoria.