I’ve had Woody Allen issues for quite a few years, not all of them movie-related, and so it takes something special to get me into a cinema seat to see one of his creations. Midnight in Paris held the promise of something that I find difficult to resist – beautiful scenery. Mind you, I had thought the same with Eat, Pray, Love and I remember only too well how that turned out. Nevertheless, after I was assured that I would enjoy Midnight in Paris by a friend in Paris, I saw no point in resistance.
The opening minutes of Midnight in Paris are a pure delight – view upon view of Paris by day and by night. No clever monologue or conversation to add colour to the images, just Paris speaking for itself for a most enjoyable few minutes. Only then, when Paris has taken its place as the central character, do we meet the human protagonists – Gil (Owen Wilson), a successful Hollywood scriptwriter, his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams), her parents John (Kurt Fuller) and Helen (Mimi Kennedy), and Inez’ friends Paul (Michael Sheen) and his partner Carol (Nina Arianda). Gil, who has written a novel and is endlessly preoccupied with re-writes, is inspired by Paris so much so that he would like to live in the city after his marriage instead of Malibu, the choice of Inez. Bored and frustrated by dinners and shopping with the in-laws and sightseeing with the abominably expert Paul, Gil sets out for a midnight walk.
On this night and on every following night, Gil is picked up by a vintage car and is transported back to the Twenties. Gil finds himself surrounded by Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Dali, Picasso and all those other artists, writers, musicians and dancers who made Paris in the Twenties the time and place in which Gil would most like to have existed. And there with them is Adriana (Marion Cotillard), the most beautiful muse. This is a journey of discovery for Gil and so there are surprises along the way – I’ll leave those for you to discover for yourself.
Midnight in Paris is a delicious film – Paris is filmed with love. It even looks beautiful in the rain. The familiar and less familiar landmarks, the wine and champagne, the art and the wit, the river and the music, the joy of life and the fear of death and despair. The film is, indeed, a joy for the senses. Gil is the perfect tourist to this world, our eyes and ears. He is clearly Woody Allen’s invention – witty, smart, vulnerable and neurotic – but there is also a fair amount of Owen Wilson in him too. It makes for a good mix and Gil is a wonderful companion through the film, suitably wide-eyed but also inspired.
On the other hand, the character of Aniz (Rachel McAdams) is far less successful and far less real. It is difficult to imagine why Gil would have been with her in the first place, she is so petty, selfish and spoilt. As for her parents, who seem to have an awful lot of trouble with Paris not being in America, the least said the better. This world that Gil finds himself turning against is so unattractive, the struggle seems less believable. The shop owner and the tour guide demonstrate that there is a good side to Gil’s modern surroundings but, generally, it’s in the past that Midnight in Paris comes to life.
The cameos are great and a lot of fun to spot. I must admit to not recognising Michael Sheen as Paul, such was the deviousness of his disguise (paired with my inability to recognise members of my own family on occasion) and he was a treat. So too were Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Adrien Brody as Dali, Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemmingway, to name but a few. Marion Cotillard steals scenes as she always does. I can’t think of many actresses I prefer to watch.
There are some very funny scenes – the rhinoceros conversation springs to mind – but generally it’s the fantastically evoked past glamorous Paris that gives the sparkle. As a whole, though, I still felt the film fell rather flat. Of course, my dissatisfaction might have been caused by all of the little elements of the film being so good, I wanted more of them. The premise is wonderful as is the look of its execution but, partly because of the two-dimensional Aniz and partly because curious ideas and characters are touched upon but go no deeper than that, I was left a little wanting, even if I feel a bit churlish to say so.
Watching Midnight in Paris makes for a very pleasurable evening, rather like drinking a glass of champagne and having the bubbles tickle your nose. It also made me want to go back to Paris. Woody Allen must have done something right, even if I wished he’d gone a little bit further.