8 October 2011

REVIEW: Midnight in Paris

Reviewer: Pierre Badiola
Release Date: 7 October 2011 (Out Now)
Rated: 12 (UK)
Director: Woody Allen
CastOwen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Marion Cotillard


Woody Allen’s latest foray into site-specific, European adventure sees him casting his tourist’s gaze towards the streets of Gai Paris, which through the eyes of both Allen and his lead character Gil (Owen Wilson) is no less than a magical place, brimming with visual splendour and boundless romance.

Gil’s heart lies somewhere amidst the city’s ornate streetlamps, picaresque gardens and quaint flea markets, much to the chagrin of his wife-to-be Inez (Rachel McAdams). She fails to share in his romantic vision of walking in the rain down the same streets his literary heroes may have been, and would much rather take a cab or, more worryingly, spend that time with her insufferably pretentious scholar friend Paul (Michael Sheen) instead. The peripheral of the film deals with reconciling these relationships in an amiable, though predictable rom-com way, neatly tying a bow around everything by it’s saccharine finale.

The crux of Midnight in Paris though, and what adds that vital ingredient of substance to it’s otherwise placid romantic comedy trappings, is Allen’s willingness to examine the pitfalls of romantic escapism, especially that of rose-tinted nostalgia, as well as revel in it’s virtues. Sure, this is feel good film territory, but let’s not get carried away here.

At first like a fairytale, on one calm Parisian night the clock strikes twelve and suddenly Gil is transported to his most-cherished place in history; the Paris of the 1920s. An iconic hangout for some of the 20th century's most prominent cultural icons, such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Picasso, T.S. Eliot, Dalí and so on (and the list does go on, and on...), Allen’s imagined celebrity haven at first resembles something of a wax museum come to life. Gil sleepwalks from location to location, serendipitously bumping into his idols at every turn and pleasantly accepting their offers to help him with his novel-in-progress -- a story about a man who runs a ‘novelty shop’.

These strolls into the past aren’t forever though, so Gil must balance his time between his demanding present life with Inez and her dry parents, and his idyllic life back in the Paris of old, where a budding relationship with the smolderingly gorgeous muse of Picasso beckons (Marion Cotillard, doing her sexy thang).

Without much urgency, Allen offers Gil a sort of moral ultimatum; either dwell in the past in a comforting world of reassuring fantasy, or forge ahead unknowingly in the present. It takes a lot of guts to choose the latter, but Midnight in Paris serves well in delivering reasons why we should.

Suffice to say this is Allen at his most optimistic and his most charming. Owen Wilson’s gentle drawl and curious nature suits the material well, and Paris of both old and new is photographed lovingly, if a little superficially (the opening picture postcard montage looks like it could’ve come from Allen’s own holiday snaps). The revolving door of celebrity caricatures is also a hoot, especially the sassy acting chops delivered by Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald and Adrien Brody as the enigmatically peculiar Dalí.

It's tempting to say that Woody Allen's most mainstream hit to date is little more than a warmly realised, high-concept Nora Ephron rom-com, yet despite it's wistful diversions, genre-rigour and predictable moral message, I can't help but be won over by Allen's belief that movies, and storytelling in general, hold equal potential for both ultimate romantic fantasy and ultimate affirmation of reality. Pure magic.

Movie Rating: 4/5

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