“They say miracles are past.” – William Shakespeare

Midnight in Paris (May 20, 2011)     4.5/5

Written & Directed by Woody Allen (Sony Pictures Classics)

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is the loveliest of films.  It is sweet, witty, charming, and, well … loveable.  It is for anyone who has ever fallen in love with a particular time or place, as well as the people who inhabit it.  It is for anyone who has dreamt of being there; anyone who has dreamt of escaping.

In Midnight in Paris, that dreamer is played with such energy and likability by Owen Wilson, who portrays a Hollywood screenwriter, Gil, escaping on a trip to Paris with his rich fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her parents.  Subconsciously, Gil is having some serious doubts about marriage, reflected in the novel he is now attempting to write.  Nobody quite thinks Gil can write a novel.  They wonder why he doesn’t fully live the good life he already has.  Gil wants to prove himself, but more importantly, he wants to escape from having to prove himself.  And now he is in Paris, the dreamiest place in the world.  Gil, being fascinated with the city circa the 1920s, claims that he would like nothing more than to see it then … especially in the rain.  And on a midnight stroll, he gets his chance.  After being beckoned into an old-fashioned automobile, Gil has somehow travelled into the past for the evening.

He soon finds himself face-to-face with the likes of the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Dali, Picasso, and Gertrude Stein (played with fabulous fervor by Kathy Bates), who agrees to help proofread his book.  Each performance is unique and hysterical, bordering on caricature yet maintaining a sense of loving allusion.  And finally, Gil meets the one he hasn’t quite read about, Picasso’s mistress, Adrianna (Marion Cotillard).  And through his giddy excitement, Gil begins to fall for her.  He takes part in the boring present at day, and hops back to the roaring twenties at night, slowly beginning to unravel the fact that maybe his own life isn’t so bad after all.  Maybe Paris should be his rightful home, but does he really need greatness surrounding him to make himself great?

It is with these questions that Midnight in Paris becomes surprisingly thought-provoking amidst the aura of sweetness and hilarity.  Despite being sentimental, it is not shallow.  And despite using formula, it is not predictable.  Owen Wilson may be typecast, playing the smart, loveable guy who has a good heart but is socially dopey.  But maybe that is just how Wilson is.  Through all his babbling, we feel like we know Wilson quite well.  And through each film, we feel as though he transcends the Owen character and becomes an old friend we can’t wait to keep spying on, just to see what sort of ridiculous situation he’ll get into next.  Woody, meanwhile, seems extremely confident behind the camera, as he often is.  The cinematography by Darius Khondji is far from sensationalized, simply showing us what it would be like to be in Paris today, or 90 years ago.  Nothing more, nothing less.

That said, it is nothing less than beautiful.  Maybe because we feel like we are there; that we have also been transported into a wondrous, foreign world.  I can’t help but think that Allen, like Gil, has his own time and place he would like to take refuge in.  Maybe here he could make movies without one being hacked by critics, or having audiences deem it “disappointing.”  But maybe this film is his testimony that despite these occurrences, everything is okay.  He is a world-class director who has made numerous contributions to American cinema, and is loved by quite a few.  He charms a good portion of the time, just as Wilson does.  And in a present so bereft of genuine wit, how could you ask for anything more?


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