For those of us who spend a lot of time inside our own heads, a common perception is that we would be better suited to living in an earlier era, a time when our talents and sensibilities would fit in better with the zeitgeist. In Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” Owen Wilson plays such a character. Gil is in love with Paris, and with 1920’s Paris in particular. On a trip to modern-day Paris with his shrew of a fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams), he muses on how today’s vulgar world has led him to ignore his dreams of writing novels in favor of making big money as a Hollywood screenwriter. Inez is troubled by Gil’s talk of giving up his lucrative career to move to Paris and write, so she distracts herself by spending time with Paul (Michael Sheen), a pedantic, intellectual bore she knows from college.
On a solitary, midnight walk Gil becomes lost and is invited to party with a joyous group in an antique car. He is taken to a party where he meets F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and slowly Gil realizes that he has stepped into 1920’s Paris. He meets Earnest Hemingway, who offers to show Gil’s novel to Gertrude Stein if he will bring it around the next night. Thus, Gil embarks on a series of midnight walks, visiting his dream era and meeting his artistic heroes. In this 1920’s world he also meets a beautiful girl, Adrianna (Marion Cotillard), and the two hit it off, partly because Adrianna also dreams of living in an earlier, better era, which for her is the turn of the century. Ultimately, Gil gets the opportunity with Adrianna to pursue HER dream and step into a turn-of-the-century bar, where they meet artists like Toulouse Latrec, some of whom express a wish that they had lived during the Renaissance. Through all of them, Gil sees the folly of this constant wishing after a Golden Age, and they help him figure out what is important to him in his real world.
I’m sure there is room for debate on this, but I think “Midnight in Paris” is one of Woody Allen’s finest films. His playful ability to blend fantasy and reality to explore the way our consciousness works is fully on display. The characterizations of the Fitzgeralds (Tom Hiddleston and Allison Pill), Hemingway (Corey Stoll), and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) are delightful. Rachel McAdams is wonderful as the cheating, materialistic fiancé, reminding me of how good she can be when she’s bad (see “Mean Girls”), and Owen Wilson more than holds his own against this stellar supporting cast.
For creating a masterpiece like this is his 70’s, Woody Allen is an example of how to remain vital and productive into old age. Allen was born in 1935, but unlike some of the characters in “Midnight in Paris,” he isn’t looking back to some Golden Age. He is fully living in, and engaged with, the present, which is the only time anyone ever gets to live.
4 stars out of 5