With Midnight in Paris, writer/director Woody Allen transports us to familiar territory, but to use the phrase “return to form” would be a disservice to both the director and the film. Yes, Midnight in Paris is a wonderful slice of magical realism akin to The Purple Rose of Cairo and Stardust Memories, but the film is so much more than mere nostalgia.
The film is centered on Gil (Owen Wilson), a successful screenwriter who is having trouble with his first novel. While vacationing in Paris with his fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams), he finds that at midnight the city magically transports him to the 1920s, an era he has long romanticized. There, along with a host of his idols (including: Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald), he meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard) and is immediately smitten. Falling more and more in love with both Adriana and the era, Gil is torn between the possibilities of the present and the nostalgia for the fantasy.
And that’s only a cursory summary of Midnight in Paris. The film is brimming with wonderful supporting performances and side stories. But for me, the standout is Owen Wilson. Ordinarily, I’m not an Owen Wilson fan. I like him, but his name isn’t a draw for me. However, here Wilson delivers one of his best performances. Wilson plays the neurotic daydreaming Woody Allen surrogate perfectly. It’s a simple, individual interpretation of the traditional Woody Allen character, unfettered by imitation. Wilson’s performance is the polar opposite of Scarlett Johansson’s god-awful Woody Allen impersonation in Scoop. It’s interesting to see how the Owen Wilson persona and the Woody Allen persona blend into each other.
Also of note: Marion Cotillard’s Adriana, it’s easy to see how Gil is so smitten by her. Cotillard is just so bloody enchanting, so mysterious. Rachel McAdams is quite good playing an uncharacteristically glib character. Michael Sheen’s performance as Inez’s pedantic friend, Paul, is yet another notch in his belt that makes up for those Underworld movies.
I could gush on and on about all the actors in the film, suffice it to say, they’re all great. But, I must mention two of my favorites. As Ernest Hemingway, Corey Stoll steals every scene he’s in. He plays it so dry and understated and blunt, it’s hilarious and actually makes me like Hemingway. Then there’s Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald. I just love Alison Pill; I’ve had a little crush on her ever since she played Kim in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. And she’s great here too. Vivacious.
Of course, part of the reason you have such a great cast is the appeal of working with Woody Allen. And he does not disappoint. In addition to invoking the magical realism of previous work (A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Alice, etc.), Allen’s clear love of Paris—evidenced by both its glorious presentation and through Gil’s descriptions of the magical city—is reminiscent of his clear love of New York on display in Manhattan. Midnight in Paris is classic Woody Allen revisited, not nostalgia, but reflection, which is probably part of the point.