- Vancouver, British Columbia - In many films, cities serve as little more than the background to a story, or perhaps even worse, the city or locale is not even learned by the viewer. Cities like New York City, Los Angeles, London, and Paris are the types of cities that many of us have preconceived notions about, or if we have been to them, we forever have memories that are stirred up when we revisit those cities in film, photo, or discussion. Woody Allen's most recent film (his 41st film at that) focuses in on Paris, a city that I adore and have visited probably at least eight times now. I had my own ideas about Paris from my travels there and admittedly was a little curious to see how a revered American director would highlight the city.
In Midnight in Paris, we're introduced to Gil (Owen Wilson), who is trying to make it as a legitimate writer after being a "Hollywood hack" (his words) and selling his creative soul for script jobs that really meant nothing to him but a sizeable paycheque. He and his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), are in Paris, tagging along on her father's business trip to see the city. Gil falls in love with Paris, while Inez does not share the same affection for the City of Lights. While Gil speaks of relocating to France to fuel his creative juices, Inez wants nothing to do with the idea of leaving the Lower 48. However, while in Paris, they re-encounter Paul (Michael Sheen) and Carol (Nina Arianda), old friends of Inez, who are intent on exploring the city and cultural tourist hotspots together. Gil, however, can't stand Paul, and rightfully so, and would rather go walking alone in Paris, largely because of one fantastical adventure that results from a midnight stroll through Paris, and is repeated every night at midnight.
It is difficult to talk about this film without spoiling the surprise, which was well guarded in the promotional material. Since it was such a joy to be surprised myself, I see no reason why I should rob you of that. However, if you've seen the film, then you will likely understand how I've hidden certain things within this review. Rarely are we given films that are worth preserving for a prospective audience, but Midnight in Paris is one such film.
Woody Allen's legacy, as far as I'm concerned, has already been etched and anything more that he produces is simply icing on the cake. He is one of the few writers and directors who faithfully writes his own material as a pure filmmaker, seemingly ignoring the demands of studio executives who have lately killed the creative beauty of cinema. Many films out of Hollywood today serve as little more than entertainment pieces that allow the viewer to forget about his or her pathetic existence for but a few hours. An artistic pursuit for beauty in filmmaking has been substituted for more CGI and more explosions. Actors and actresses, however, recognize the strength of Allen's work, even if they, or many people including yours truly, do not agree with some of the messages that Allen advocates. At least he has something that he wants to say and finds a truly creative way to say it. I believe it is for reasons such as these that so many big name actors are willing to work in Woody Allen's pictures for, relatively speaking, peanuts compared to their usual fees. On top of that, Allen can often get actors and actresses to play characters that are in conflict with their own carefully crafted image in the media.
In Midnight in Paris, Allen brought on Owen Wilson, which admittedly was cause for me to hesitate about seeing this film, as Wilson has really struggled to do anything beyond the surfer with no direction in his life aside from playfully seeking the carnal treasures of the female kind. It was amusing for the first few times, but became stale. Allen pushes Wilson beyond that typecast in this film and into a character who is trying to take back his life and his soul after abandoning it for the corporate dollar. I have yet to see Owen Wilson play a character with as much depth and conflict as his Gil does in Midnight in Paris. Meanwhile, Rachel McAdams as Inez is a perfect example of Allen giving a leading lady a role that goes against her crafted image, as Inez becomes downright irritable in this film, but it is necessary for the film and works.
There are many memorable performances in this film based on caricatures of familiar personalities. As a writer, I can tell that Allen must've had a thrill in writing many of these characters and bringing them to the silver screen, as I was equally entertained by watching them in live action. Corey Stoll as Ernest was among the most entertaining. Michael Sheen as Paul was easily one of the most aggravating characters that I've seen in film, but again, it works for this film. It may come off as a little thick, but ultimately, I feel like it was a wise choice otherwise it would've caused a greater distraction from the drama of Gil's narrative. Kathy Bates plays another strong performance as Gertrude, being frank, interested and constructively critical. She is joy whenever she is on screen.
Marion Cotillard also contributes as Adrianna, who is also a charm on the screen, bringing a little bit of old school glamour to her character. It is easy to see why she is so adored in the film by Gil, as it is a treat to watch her play her part. It was also refreshing to see Adrian Brody play another amusing character in Salvador rather than the brooding, anti-socialite that he has recently been drawn to.
Woody Allen brings out the best in each of the famed actors, allowing them all contribute to his original vision in the film, and while his message in this film might lack subtlety, I can appreciate and respect what he is trying to say about nostalgia. Viewing this film certainly stirred up a sense of nostalgia for me about my old life in France. It has also made me want to re-visit some of the classics that have become associated with Paris in the past. Midnight in Paris is a return to the past, when cinema was not only about making a buck, but also about creating something beautiful, insightful, and charming. Midnight in Paris will make you laugh, it will entertain you, as well as make you think about your own life; a combination of all three is unfortunately all too rare these days.
Rating: 5/5 Sour Grapes