Watching “Midnight in Paris” made me realize how long it’s been since I’ve seen a Woody Allen movie. But it shocked even me to see that it’s been 17 years – “Mighty Aphrodite” was the last Allen flick I saw. That’s to my own discredit, I’m sure. Especially when you consider that I saw (or at least am pretty sure that I saw) every Allen release between “Annie Hall” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors,”during the 12-year period that most Allen fans would call his golden era.
With no intent to damn “Midnight in Paris” with faint praise, I would say that it does not quite match the brilliance of what I’d identify as Allen’s masterworks – “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” But that’s an impossible standard to match, and as it is, “Midnight in Paris” fits very nicely in the “wonderfully entertaining and engaging” category, along with movies like “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” “Radio Days,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Broadway Danny Rose,” even “Zelig.” Which is to say, it is better than about 95% of the films that get released.
And now that I’ve figured out where the film resides in the Allen pantheon, let’s talk about it a bit. First of all, I have to say that I went on record many years ago as stating that someday, Owen Wilson was going to win an Academy Award. This is the film that makes me believe that it might be possible. As Gil the screenwriter, Wilson is like Allen in his younger days, but more charming and less…well, “Woody Allen-ish.” He is in Paris with his wife-to-be (played by Rachel McAdams) and her parents, and it is evident from the very first scenes that this is not a match made in heaven. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how they ended up together in the first place, they have so little in common. Gil is a romantic, and he longs for the romantic Paris days of yore, when literary giants like Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Stein made Paris their home.
And one night, Gil gets his wish – after getting lost trying to find his way back to his hotel, he plops himself down on a set of steps, and before long is picked up by a mysterious automobile that transports him to the world of his dreams – a world where he mingles with the aforementioned legends, along with others like Picasso, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel and others. This world is vastly entertaining, both for Gil and for the viewer of the film. The performances of the actors portraying Scott and Zelda, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates!) and especially Hemingway are all spot on (and hilarious), as is Allen’s dialogue for them. And as the somewhat mysterious Adriana, Marion Cotillard is exquisite, as she seems to be in every role that she plays. It’s no wonder that Gil is transfixed by her.
To learn the lessons of the movie, you need to watch it yourself; more I will not give away here. Suffice to say, the lessons are surprisingly thoughtful and meaningful. And who knows – someday, this may wind its way up the Allen pantheon ladder. For now consider it an excellent Woody Allen film, which means that you should see it.