Midnight In Paris: Love Letter To The Most Beautiful City In The World
By Sumaya Samarasinghe
This is Woody Allen’s 41st film and his highest grossing feature in North America, why? No idea. Midnight in Paris is not half as gripping as his previous four movies which were all filmed in Europe. Allen gave Scarlett Johansson her best roles in the London based Match Point and in Vicky, Christina Barcelona where she and her other cast members had superbly written characters. Even Allen’s previous production You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger had such a strong ensemble cast led by the amazing Naomi Watts and Anthony Hopkins, that, it is a shame the entire lot did not get a group acknowledgment for their performances.
The wider public appeal of Midnight in Paris is probably thanks to less twisted and complicated characters in the film.
Gil played by Owen Wilson is a Hollywood screenwriter who is thinking of giving up his lucrative career for that of a probably less commercially successful author. He is holidaying in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her equally shallow parents who hate just about everything about France. Inez wants to go shopping, get some ridiculous antiques just for the sake of saying that they were purchased in Paris, get married and go back and live in Malibu. She is rather unsupportive of Gil’s new career goals and it becomes very quickly obvious that they are the mismatch of the century.
Things get worse for Gil when Paul, a friend of Inez’s, and his wife Carol bump into them quite by chance. Paul who is lecturing at the Sorbonne is an absolute show off and a vessel of empty knowledge about every possible subject and of course, he never shuts up! The problem is that Inez adores him and decides to ditch Gil and go dancing with Carol and Paul one night after a wine tasting session.
Gil is only too happy to stroll around the streets of Paris, alone in the night. But with the great weather and a little too much wine in his system, Gil loses his way and finds himself on a narrow street when the church bell rings at midnight and an antique car pulls up. He gets invited by the passengers to join them for a party during which he slowly realises that he has travelled in time and is now in the 1920’s. Cole Porter is actually at the piano singing about birds doing it and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda decide to become Gil’s guide and take him to meet Ernest Hemingway who is drinking in a bar. Gil who idolises him talks about his novel and Hemingway suggests that he show his work to the most honest critic he could think of, who is none other than Gertrude Stein. When he runs out of the bar to go fetch his novel at the hotel, he finds himself back in the present.
Next evening, he attempts to share this wonderful adventure with Inez who clearly is not in the same frame of mind as he is. Exasperated with Gil, she leaves him a little before the clock strikes midnight and misses the opportunity of a magical journey into the 1920’s. This time he is able to leave his novel with Gertrude Stein and she promises him some useful and constructive criticism.It is at her apartment that he meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard) a couture student who also happens to be Picasso’s mistress and Gil becomes more and more infatuated with the dreamy eyed woman.
So Gil goes back and forth from a present he feels less and less connected to, to a past filled with his heroes who kindly take him under their wing and don’t even find it strange (the scene where he explains to surrealists, Dali, Bunuel and Man Ray that he comes from a different era is particularly funny) that he comes from the future.
Those who have watched most of Woody Allen’s movies will definitely make a parallel with his Purple Rose of Cairo where a movie character came down from the cinema screen to brighten up the life of a lonely woman played by Mia Farrow who kept coming to the cinema by herself to escape her drab life. The amazing story teller that Woddy Allen is, manages to blur the thin line between fantasy and reality and never once is a rational explanation of Gil’s time travelling ever even attempted.
The director seems to have kept it simple this time.The rude and obnoxious Inez and her parents are exactly whom they seem to be, there will be no redeeming factors and a special mention for Rachel McAdams who is once again excellent in her part. Gil is a dreamer, desperate for a life change and though he is a good and principled human being, he knows that a future with Inez is just not possible. Forget the twisted characters Allen so enjoys normally, these ones are pretty straightforward.
Perhaps did he not want the viewers to lose their main focus in the film which is Paris?
Woody Allen has written a love letter to the city of lights. Some may say, too many clichés of restaurants, cafés, antique stores, designer stores, buildings; but what can one do when dealing with the most beautiful city in the world!
France’s first lady Carla Bruni even dozes a rather good cameo in the Musée Rodin where she plays the part of a tour guide.
So how did Allen this time achieve both commercial and critical success with what I would consider to be “not” his best work? Probably because after a long time, Woody Allen has kept his characters basic and simple while giving the public their money’s worth of Parisian monuments they can recognise, Midnight in Paris is a wonderful time to take a stroll and who knows if you are lucky you may bump into your heroes you have always dreamt of meeting? A little bit of magic once in a while does no harm.