MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Directed by Woody Allen
I bet that even Allen’s biggest admirers (and those include me) couldn’t expect this one coming. A real return to form, and his greatest, sharpest film in quite some time. Even a Best Picture nomination. I don’t believe Allen has ever been responsible for anything truly disastrous, but as of late and up to Midnight In Paris that ‘film a year’ aesthetic coupled with lack of artistic spark hadn’t produced anything of note. In fact, I would go as far as to say that his last (near-)classic was the often overlooked Sweet And Lowdown from 1999.
The trick is that Midnight In Paris is such an unmistakable Woody Allen-esque experience. If you consider 2007’s Cassandra’s Dream, you will see that that film could have been made by anyone. Midnight In Paris, though, and it becomes obvious starting with the very first scenes, has that irresistible touch of wittiness and whimsy only Allen can provide. Take the main character, Gil Pander, a successful Hollywood screenwriter aspiring to write his first novel, who comes to Paris with his fiancée. Gil is a man out of time. Hopeless, slightly awkward romantic, and also so Woody Allen that Owen Wilson is almost reduced to copying Allen from Manhattan, from Annie Hall, from Husbands & Wives… The manners, the words – all so very recognizable.
Gil adores Paris. Sunny Paris, Paris in the rain – he loves it all. He even plans to settle here – even though his fiancée is determined to live in Malibu and shares none of Gil’s feelings. The plot’s main hook is that walking through midnight Paris Gil gets miraculously transported to the Paris of the 20’s. And that includes meeting F. Scott Fitzgerald, Luis Buñuel, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway – all Gil’s absolute heroes. He feels at home there, and even finds a woman he really, genuinely loves. There’s no question that quite often it all turns into crude, occasionally wince-inducing farce (check out Hemingway’s talk and demeanour). Hilarious – but quite charming, too. Allen or not, Owen Wilson looks very natural in the role, as does Michael Sheen as an impeccable and quite annoying pseudo-intellectual Gil meets in real, contemporary Paris.
Midnight In Paris reminded me of Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road (also a great film by Sam Mendes). A young couple sees the cheapness of that old and weary American Dream and is having these thoughts of moving to the exciting, unfading romance of Paris… It doesn’t really work out in Yates’ book, but in Allen’s film – well, it’s a romantic comedy and it’s a completely different story. One that Paris so clearly deserves.
Watching Midnight In Paris is a singular experience. It’s the feeling of watching classic Allen – and you can’t beat that.