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.