Plot: A successful screenwriter attempting to finally pen his first novel vacations in Paris with his fiancee and her parents. In an attempt to find artistic direction, he finds himself wondering the moonlit streets at night and, at the strike of midnight, he is transported back to the 1920’s where he rubs shoulders with literary and artistic geniuses such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso, giving him a strange new lease for life.
Thoughts: In the mid-1960’s, a short Jewish stand-up comedian formerly known as Allan Konigsberg found his break in the movie business after being hired to write the Peter Seller’s comedy ‘What’s New Pussycat?’. In the years that followed, this artistically driven New Yorker would go on to make some of time’s most fascinating and beautiful portraits of life, love and most notably laughter across a range of different locations and settings, winning 3 Academy Awards and becoming a world-renowned director, screenwriter and actor along the way. However, by the turn of the 21st century, much of his work began to dry up and his uniquely quirky and literary spirit became lost in a haze of botched editing and directionless plotting. Now, over 45 years after his first notable credit, the man returns with a strange and intriguing picture, the man we have come to know and love as Woody Allen.
‘Midnight in Paris’ begins much like Allen’s late-70’s artistic triumph ‘Manhattan’, with a simple yet overtly affective montage of the city in a day. The warm glow of the ancient landmarks signal the true nature of the piece and ably begin his riotously witty and subtly charming love-letter to the city of Paris.
Throughout the picture we are tactfully reminded of its shimmering beauty and elegant voice, so much so that the city itself becomes a driving part of the film’s main structuring. Allen’s graceful presentation of both the major boulevards and winding side streets create a simple yet powerfully moving portrait of his setting and, through his experienced artistic temperament, he folds these astonishing glimpses into the backdrop of the movie so unbelievably magically.
As usual with a Woody Allen picture, there’s the classic loose ends due to his almost barbaric editing strategies (he films in such a way that whole sub-plots and characters can be almost completely cut out of the finished piece if needs be) and some performances are sadly stale, their clear fear of losing their place amongst the footing of the movie is startling obvious. There’s also his trademark poorly-hidden plot devices hidden amongst the otherwise rather bewitching dialogue; but what separates ‘Midnight in Paris’ from Allen’s other modern mis-fires is that within this film, they all work. Sure it’s shockingly clear what direction much of the story will take, and there’s large gaping holes of unseen affairs and such, but it’s all superbly hidden behind Woody’s suddenly captivating direction.
Another largely defining feature that chronically dooms much of Allen’s recent work is his choice of leading man/woman. By now the former comedian has a list longer than his own arm of A-list Hollywood actors who would all give their right (and left) leg to work with him, and so much of his casting in the recent past has been incredibly experimental. Never before has Allen found a lead actor who could so perfectly mimic the quirky and uncertain tones of his own performances, until now in, surprisingly enough, Owen Wilson. A remarkable discovery, Wilson manages to flawlessly channel 70’s Woody from the likes of ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Sleeper’ into his own embodiment of screenwriter Gill, doing so with charm and exceedingly clever comedy.
Within the modern timeline of 2010, Wilson is given some rather sour support in Rachel McAdams as his soon-to-be wife, an otherwise talented actress who appears misguided and worried throughout. She never truly opens up, her chemistry never realistic and much of her like-ability ultimately lost. Michael Sheen is an underused treat (as usual) as a shamelessly pompous old flame of McAdams’ but it isn’t until we journey into the more obscure performances that we truly discover the hidden and un-billed talent of the piece.
For the more extravagant roles of the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, Ernest Hemingway and even Salvatore Dali, Allen turns to some of the finest acting talent around. Tom Hiddleston, Allison Pill, Marion Cotillard and even Adrien Brody all put in dramatic, fruity and overwhelmingly good fun turns as some of history’s most notable artists; all clearly enjoying their roles, sometimes even bordering on parody. It’s a true testament to Allen himself that, in many pictures, these performances would be lost in a haze of insecurity and madness, but here, they fit right in. Undeniably genius.
What too must be praised is Woody’s encouraging decision to ignore standard realism. Wilson’s Gill is continuously thrust into the fleeting past at midnight each night, and never once do we question how he got there or worry as to the rules of his situation; we simply accept it as part of the story and move on. This simple act really gives the film its overall fun and artsy vibe, leaving the viewer with a lastingly upbeat and thoughtful vision of life itself as the credits roll.
‘Midnight in Paris’ exhales both wit and charm at a casual pace and, when twinned with the light-hearted humour of the performances and indeed the situations, it finds a truly funny yet gripping middle-ground between comedy and drama, allowing you to think about both the characters’ and your own predicament simultaneously. In this decidedly complex and delightfully enjoyable picture, Woody Allen has shown that he still possesses the ability to make funny and artistically stimulating cinema and, in the process, has finally found a leading man who can fit his own shoes perfectly. A few more invigorating efforts like this and the King will almost certainly have returned to his previous greatness.