Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

The plan is for Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) to get married in California after their mini-vacation in Paris. Gil, already a successful Hollywood writer for movies but currently hoping to break into the literary scene, informs his bride-to-be that he wants to live there for the time being because he is inspired by so many things: the magnificent architectures, the amazing art, and the histories behind them. He is even able to find beauty in the way the rain tends to cover the streets like a warm blanket.

But Inez does not want to live in Paris–end of discussion. She scoffs at the way he romanticizes the city. While walking around at midnight, something magical happens. Gil is able to walk into the 1920s, his favorite decade, and meet his idols: literary icons like F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll).

Written and directed by Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris” shows us the slow decomposition of a relationship through fantastic encounters. A lot of care is put into the central character. Though the tone is light and accessible, the screenplay is concerned about details: what Gil feels and thinks about his career and relationship, the people of the past that he is able to interact with, and, eventually, to consider doing what is necessary so he can move forward.

The scenes set in 2010 as Gil interacts with Inez and her family (Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy) are both maddening and amusing. I found Inez’ side to be really annoying because they are the kind of people who buy a $20,000 chair and not feel guilty about it. Their big problems consists of silly things like which clothing are appropriate to wear at a party or if they are coming off as smart or worldly enough to their acquaintances. Still, they find a way to complain about something. At the same time, I was entertained because Gil is so passive toward them at times. Clearly, he is the conduit between our simpler worlds and the disgustingly privileged just as he is the bridge between the past and the future.

Despite the glamour, the story remains relatable. I loved the scenes when the couple are forced to listen to pedantic Paul (Michael Sheen) about the history of each landmark and artwork. Even if he is wrong, he considers himself to be right. We all know people like Paul. What is it about certain people who feel that they know or must be right about everything? Given that they encounter others with similar know-it-all personalities, do they get annoyed around each other? Even with supporting characters like Paul, I enjoyed that the script inspired me to wonder.

The midnight time jumps to the 1920s is a welcome conceit. They are shot in beautiful bright yellow glow. While the scenes in 2010 focuses on negative energy that surrounds Gil, the 1920s are positive and golden. Wilson has played plenty of good guys, but I have never seen him so likable and in command of his effortless charm. He gives Gil a certain level of humility so our protagonist approaches legendary authors and artists as a wide-eyed fan, perhaps the way we would have if we were given a chance to meet the artists face-to-face.

It is joyful meeting colorful figures like Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), and Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody), but the film does not lose track that this is about Gil’s journey as a budding writer, not just a revolving door of highly influential figures. By touching them physically, discussing and exchanging ideas, as well as taking note of their flaws, Gil is able to gain a fresh perspective on how to write and edit his novel. In addition and equally important, by spending time with Adriana (Marion Cotillard), Pablo Picasso’s then-girlfriend and muse, he learns that maybe Inez needs a man who has a more polarizing personality. Life is short and we should lead a life that is deserving of us.

“Midnight in Paris” entertains in a subdued way. While the pacing is slow at times, complementing Gil’s relaxed personality, its quirks do not overshadow the emotions. Like a novel worthy of reading while under soft blankets, there is elegance in the way in sashays from one encounter to another.

6 replies »

  1. This is a really excellent review of a movie I just love! I really like (and agree with) what you have to say about details, and Woody Allen really did get it right. So did Owen Wilson, who I really connected with. His low-key, laconic charm was perfectly suited for a winsome film of this type. On a personal note, as a writer, I wanted to be Gil. I wanted to walk that fantastical journey of inner discovery with him.

    I also thought the supporting cast was inspired, especially Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates and Tom Hiddleston (Thor’s Loki!). I loved Adrian Brody’s Dali (“I’m DALI!!!”). Everyone helped bring those worlds to life. I want to go there, too!

    Wonderful, wonderful film. Great review, Franz Patrick!

    • It’s funny how when Allen gets it right, his material still manages to speak to a lot of people even after all these years. Despite some of the films in his oeuvre, no one can claim that he is not one of the greatest living directors today. I hope he’ll be around for a very long time.

      It’s interesting that you, as a writer, wanted to be Gil. As a non-writer, I wanted to experience what he experienced, too. I liked seeing how inspiration comes to him when he least expected it.

      • Regarding you’re closing remarks to my comment … I think anyone in any way of life can relate to the voyage of discovery that Gil took. Gil’s journey brought him validation as a writer … he saw that he does indeed belong, even if took a crazy journey into the past to make him realize that. The film is about discovering yourself, having confidence in yourself, and latching onto what you were truly meant to do. I just love that Gil found happiness, and that he was holding the keys all along.

        There’s absolutely no denying that Woody Allen belongs in the ranks of “legendary” directors, dead or alive. He might not be hitting them out of the park like he used to, but there’s no denying his filmography, and all the classics that can be found there. As you said, when he gets it right, he really gets it right. I can ride out a few To Rome With Love or Anything Else if he’s gonna put out a Midnight In Paris or Vicki Cristina Barcelona every five years or so.

        Judging by the trailer, Blue Jasmine is looking good, if only for Cate Blanchett’s ferocious performance. I’m also looking forward to seeing where he shot here in San Francisco. I recognize many places in the trailer.

        • Wow, thanks, I have not even yet heard of “Blue Jasmine” until you mentioned it.

          I watched the trailer on YouTube and it looks just like my kind of movie–a portrait of a miserable and desperate character in denial. Sounds like a lot of fun. I’m also from the Bay Area, but I only visit SF when there’s something special, like an event in the city or family members from across the country or globe come to visit. Needless to say, I recognized nothing from the trailer. Hahaha. But I’ll definitely be on the lookout for the movie now. :)

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