Just being in Paris at midnight is a memorable experience that true romantics will appreciate, and most likely, never forget. In the case of Woody Allen, he decided to make a movie about it. Its title is self explanatory – ‘Midnight in Paris,’ and it is without question, his best work since ‘Matchpoint’, a powerful drama that echoes the writings of Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It is also, through May, one of my top 10 films of 2011.
‘Midnight in Paris’ is a simple romantic comedy set in Paris that bursts with engrossment. As the story begins, Gil (played by Owen Wilson) and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) are tagging along on a trip to Paris with her father, John (Kurt Fuller), and mother, Helen (Mimi Kennedy). These two young people, who are engaged to be married in the fall, have Woody-Allen-like experiences there that change their lives forever.
In true Allen fashion, our New York legend need not be on screen to be felt. His words and direction are immediately recognizable from the onset as we hear the protagonist’s dialogue off-camera while the opening credits are still on screen. Allen, who is filming in Paris for the second time in his career (his first was Everyone Says I Love You), finds his imaginative form again here as his star Owen Wilson meets legendary historical figures of the literary, art and film world, including Spaniard/Mexican Luis Buñuel. It’s this type of inventiveness humor that has been sorely missed from his work. Somehow he has found it in ‘Paris’. Throughout the years, Woody has had a very consistent track record of making very good to very bad movies. His last two films ‘Whatever Works‘ and ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger‘ didn’t impress the way ‘Matchpoint’ or ‘Midnight’ do. In ‘Whatever Works‘ comedian Larry David didn’t even managed to crack a smile on my face. The script wasn’t interesting enough nor was the payoff. In “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger ‘, Woody improved the story and even threw in Antonio Banderas for kicks, but it ended up being a rehash of previous average films and had nothing original. Then suddenly he comes out with a gem like this that is simple and honest, true to the Woody of old. To say it titillates the mind’s eye is more than effective.
On the acting front, Owen Wilson, fresh off being a part of one of the worst films of 2010 – How Do You Know – and the overhyped and awkward comedy ‘Hall Pass’, is obliviously innocent and likable as Gil, a hack Hollywood screenwriter that is penning his first novel which he can’t seem to get passionate about. He’s an uncouth and distracted person that finds it difficult to please his fiance or her family. Wilson plays the role with a wonderful, natural comic instinct and charm that we as the public have come to grow fond of. As is typical for a Woody Allen film, the rest of the superlative supporting cast is top notch. They range from stars like Adrien Brody and Kathy Bates, Carla Bruni to talented newcomers like Corey Stoll, Nina Arianda, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, and Léa Seydoux.
But no matter what actor steps in as the ‘star’, the real star will always be Woody Allen’s essence which he leaves on the screen so richly. The script is tight, it always moves forward and there are no frills to be had. The performances are quirky, funny, sexy and astute. ‘Midnight in Paris’ is Woody Allen’s valentine to the City of Lights, and I hope he comes back to New York yearning to recapture his love for the city like he has in Paris.