MIDNIGHT IN PARIS Review
[Midnight in Paris expands across the U.S. today, still in limited release. Since that includes my home base of Dallas, Texas, I'm reposting my review from a couple of weeks ago.]
Beginning with a montage that resembles nothing so much as a parody of Woody Allen montages, Midnight in Paris asserts its personality slowly. The graceful photographic preamble concludes and the voice and personality of Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) comes into focus. He's a successful Hollywood screenwriter, vacationing in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy).
Gil is working on his first novel and dreaming about moving to France to write full-time. He's already a full-time yearner, lamenting that he was born too late, wishing that he could have lived in Paris during its glamorous literary heyday in the 1920s. As a further manifestation of his not-so-secret desires, his novel is set in a nostalgia shop.
Inez pooh-poohs his innermost desires in public, faintly ridiculing them as the couple visits Versailles in the company of Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife Carol (Nina Arianda). Inez and Paul knew each other in the past, and they seem well-suited for each other in the present; Inez is materialistic and shallow, while Paul is pompous and pretentious.
For his part, Gil is drifting. He doesn't seem especially attached to Inez, but she's a beautiful woman and the relationship appears to be one that is carried along by its own momentum, sweeping toward marriage more as a matter of course than romance.
Gil, though, is a romantic, and a sentimentalist, and an artist at heart, and eventually those currents merge as the clock strikes midnight and he finds himself alone on a quiet street ... and a beautiful motorized carriage pulls up to the curb, and Gil is compelled to enter, and he finds himself together with his dreams, on a magical adventure.
To say more would spoil the adventure, but suffice it to say that the bulk of the movie is a lilting, literary, lovely, and luminous trip, a marvelous way to explore the issues that most affect Gil, and quite unlike any "mid-life" crisis that I've seen before.
In part, of course, that's because Woody Allen is at the helm.
Having made dozens of pictures, criss-crossing often through the broad avenues of wealth, privilege, and neurosis, Allen has developed a distinct motif -- make that numerous motifs -- that reoccur often and, perhaps, without Allen even realizing it himself. He writes to his strengths, and his films live and die on the material. Midnight in Paris is his best material in years.
Allen is 75 years old and has made films at a steady pace for so long that we take it for granted that another new one will appear every year. Midnight in Paris is reason to celebrate; not because the old man is still alive and made another picture, but because Midnight in Paris is a very good film that quietly gets to the heart of its lead character.
The supporting characters fall into more familiar Allen caricatures -- friendly yet familiar -- while Gil Pender is a different type, a kind, good-hearted man who is uncertain if his life's ambition is really the best course to follow. He must reconcile his sentiment for the past and his unease for the present, all without harming anyone. That he does so with graceful levity and a measure of gravitas is a tribute to Allen's gifts as a filmmaker and storyteller.
P.S. Midnight in Paris is also worth catching because of the divine presence of Marion Cotillard, as well as appearances by Kathy Bates, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, and many more some happily hamming up cameos, with others delightfully and subtly evocative. Darius Khondji, director of photography, captures the golden light of a gorgeous city.