Directed By: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard
Trivia: This was the opening film at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, the second of Woody Allen's movies to be given this honor (following Hollywood Ending in 2002)
The opening shots of Midnight in Paris, a montage presenting some of the old town’s most interesting sights, reminded me of another Woody Allen film: 1979’s Manhattan, which also began with images of a great city. And while Manhattan was Allen’s tribute to the place of his birth, Midnight in Paris is his ode to the City of Lights, only, in the case of this movie, it’s both a locale and a period in history that’s fueled his imagination.
Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is in Paris with his fiance, Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. A Hollywood screenwriter who dreams of becoming a serious novelist, Gil instantly falls in love with Paris, and talks of settling down there, though Inez isn’t the least bit interested in doing so. One night, when Inez goes dancing with her friend Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife, Gil decides to pass the time by strolling around the city, and it’s during his travels that something amazing happens. At the stroke of midnight, a 1920’s-style car pulls up next to Gil, with its occupants beckoning him to come along. When he takes them up on their offer, Gil finds himself magically transported back in time to the Paris of the 1920s, where he hobnobs with a variety of that period’s most fascinating personalities, including Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) and Cole Porter (Yves Heck). Much to his dismay, however, this sojourn to the past doesn’t last as long as he’d like it to, and after several hours, he’s once again in the 21st century. Excited and amazed, Gil spends each and every night from that moment on visiting the ‘20s, and even begins to question whether or not he should marry Inez when he falls for Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a beautiful woman living with Picasso as his mistress.
Midnight in Paris is the kind of fantasy that only Woody Allen could create, paying homage to a place, and an era, that has clearly captured his heart, and like his main character, we find ourselves swept up in the thrill of experiencing Paris during the Jazz Age. His first night there, Gil meets F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife, Zelda (Alison Pill), who whisk him away to a club where Josephine Baker (Sonia Rolland) is performing. Soon after, Gil is introduced to Hemingway, who suggests he hand his novel over to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Baker) for her to review. A good many of the era’s prominent celebrities make their way in and out of the picture, like Salvador Dali (Adrian Brody, in a very funny performance), Luis Bunuel (Adrien de Van) and T.S. Eliot (David Lowe), all of whom do their part to turn Midnight in Paris into an unforgettable film.
Having worked exclusively in America most of his career, Woody Allen has spent the better part of the last decade making movies abroad, including Match Point (set in London) in 2004 and Vicky Christina Barcelona (shot primarily in Spain) in 2008, both of which are excellent. Now we can add Midnight in Paris to that list, a wonderfully creative motion picture and, quite possibly, Allen’s best in 15 years.