Movie Review - Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson, Carla Bruni (France's first lady)
& Woody Allen (right) on set of "Midnight in Paris"
Most filmmakers would find it horrible to work outside and then have it rain on them. But not Woody Allen! For this movie, Allen in fact encourages it. He revels in it. As his main character remarks, he loves the city in the rain. The city in question is Paris, and I would have to agree. I love Paris in the rain too, and Allen and his cinematographer capture the precipitation over Paris brilliantly.

This movie is in many ways a love letter to Paris. From his well-composed shots of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the gardens and quaint streets to his detail and distortion of Parisian history to his incorporation of French with no subtitles, Allen more than appreciates the City of Light. If this film is any evidence, the only other thing that Allen loves more than Paris is the artists that the city attracted, specifically those that were attracted in the early twentieth century.

In the 1920s, for example, many artists, including the best writers, painters and musicians in the world, came to Paris. Montparnasse, a district or arrondissement in the southwest section, was the center. Many of those artists gathered and lived there. Montparnasse therefore becomes the center of Allen's movie, and one of the most interesting historical events to occur in this area helps to drive his plot.

Yes, Montparnasse was a magnet, most notably for American writers. Gertrude Stein moved there not long after the turn of the twentieth century. By the time, World War I ended, Stein used her home in Paris as a meeting place for other American writers whom she called "a lost generation." They were writers who were disillusioned and cynical from their war experiences, writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

Stein mentored and encouraged these writers. Yet, it wasn't just authors. She also loved collecting art, impressionist and cubist art. So, painters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were also in her social circle.

Gertrude Stein, played here by Oscar-winner Kathy Bates, is a key and pivotal character in this story. This movie is not about her. She's not the central person, but she is important, and, it's interesting that Allen would make this film strongly utilizing her character.

Stein was an expatriate. She was born in the United States, but she left to have a career and life in Europe. Whereas Allen is the quintessential, New York filmmaker, but for the past six years or more he's worked in Europe as well, making movies in England, Spain and now France. Even though he's still very much connected to his native New York, Allen seems to be a burgeoning expatriate too.

Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter who comes to Paris for vacation prior to his pending marriage, but who ends up staying in France. He wanders the streets at night looking for inspiration for his novel as well as respite from his fiancee's family and friends. At the stroke of midnight, Gil is transported back into the 1920s during the time of Stein, other expatriates, the lost generation, Jazz musicians and post-postimpressionist painters. It's like a comedic Twilight Zone.

Like with a Twilight Zone episode, there's a moral to be learned. Rod Serling or an equivalent doesn't pop out to tell it, but Allen does make it clear. Gil is in love with Paris. His future wife, Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, isn't. Gil is highly affectionate for the 1920s artists. Inez is the opposite. Inez criticizes Gil for how much he romanticizes it. Inez's very knowledgeable, smug and pedantic friend, Paul, played by Martin Sheen, calls Gil Miniver Cheevy. Gil works for a nostalgic shop and that's very much how he is, almost too much so.

Gil spends his days in present-day Paris with his fiancee, her friends and visiting parents. At midnight, he hangs out with the bohemians of the past. He does this for about a week, meeting people like Stein and her circle of famous artists of that period. Allen builds the comedy around how Gil in the day is with people he can't stand and in the night he's with people he idolizes, and how he becomes disillusioned in each scenario

Yet, Allen hinges the situation on the one-man-two-women setup that he's done time and time again. Allen of course doles out his clever and witty one-liners, but what's remarkable is a tiny trick that Allen pulls at the end. One of the women in Allen's Parisian love triangle is Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard who plays Adriana. Cotillard recently appeared in the dream-within-a-dream action film by Christopher Nolan. Allen doesn't have Nolan's grand and epic, special effects, but he achieves an "Inception" moment where he takes his character down a rabbit hole that's not as layered as Nolan's but certified to make you smile and think.

Allen seasons this movie with actors doing hilarious interpretations of historical figures. Corey Stoll (Law & Order: LA) plays Ernest Hemingway as a man fueled by Hemingway's prose. Alison Pill (Pieces of April and Milk) plays Zelda Fitzgerald, a woman who seems to be the inspiration for The Great Gatsby's Daisy. Tom Hiddleston (Thor) plays F. Scott Fitzgerald and is comical but seems to be the one who isn't hyper-exaggerated. Oscar-winner Adrien Brody plays Salvador Dali who is hyper-exaggered, but he seems to be a far better caricature than the one Robert Pattinson drew in Little Ashes.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for smoking and some sexual references.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 34 mins.


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