Movie Review: Midnight in Paris

Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard
Directed By: Woody Allen
Written By: Woody Allen
Gravier Productions, 2011
PG-13; 94 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


IMDB has this movie listed as a comedy, which surprised me because I didn't see a whole lot of funny in it. But then again, comedy has a lot of different flavors, and Woody Allen isn't known for belly laughs. His comedy tends toward the more thought-inducing and neurotic.

I'll start out by admitting I'm no huge fan of Woody Allen; I haven't seen more than a handful of his movies. We had to watch Annie Hall in film school, of course, and while I thought that was an okay film, I had a difficult time understanding all the hype around it. Maybe I was born in the wrong era, or maybe I just don't think that way.

But I really liked Midnight in Paris. This is probably because I'm a writer in love with a foreign city myself and so I could completely identify with Wilson's character. He plays Gil, an established screenwriter who is taking a sabbatical of sorts in Paris so he can write what he hopes will be a great literary novel. Tagging along are his fiancée Inez and her parents, as well as some other friends of hers . . . Gil evidently has inherited all friends and family and has none of his own.

If I have one bone to pick with Midnight in Paris, it's that I cannot for the life of me figure out why Gil and Inez are together. They have nothing in common, and she has a terrible habit of making fun of him by relating sensitive and embarrassing anecdotes to others. Gil is a nice-guy liberal; Inez and her family are stuck-up right-wingers. If I had to guess, I'd say Inez was originally drawn by Gil's prospects, his connections as a screenwriter, which is likely why she fights him so hard when Gil mentions (repeatedly) that he might prefer to settle in the City of Lights indefinitely.

This is all prologue, of course; the real story here is how every night at midnight, Gil gets magically swept into the 1920s Parisian scene. While there he meets Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Dali, the Fitzgeralds, Cole Porter, and Gertrude Stein (portrayed quite well by Kathy Bates) among others. Meeting these icons gives Gil a shot of literary mojo. In fact, it seems almost addictive for him; Gil begins retreating from the modern world more and more as he begins to dwell on and within this fantastical space.

Of course, the underlying theme in Midnight in Paris is about the grass being greener. When Gil and a 1920s artists' model named Adriana (Cotillard) get swept back into the 1890s, she proclaims that she never wants to return to the present--her present, the 1920s. After all, the "now" is boring; things were so much better in the good ol' days. As Gil tries to convince her otherwise, he comes to the realization that escapism is no answer to life's problems.

It's a delicate balance; as a writer I know the value of living within one's imagination, sometimes for long periods of time. Breaking the dreamy concentration can be costly to a story or script. Interruption is generally unwelcome. But one also has to surface now and again, participate in real life, and be present in the present, else life can come crashing down while you're living and breathing an otherwhere.

Midnight in Paris is a gentle film, and beautiful in a cinematographic way, even if it carries no heavy insights into life. The motion in the film, both outward and introspectively, is slow, like a dawning. This is not a movie designed to jolt, or even to prompt great discussion; instead it is a love letter to the creative mind, and to all the influences that crowd it.

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