Every time I review a Woody Allen movie, it seems I address the same issues time and time again. This is likely because Allen always chooses to tackle the same themes – class, art and commerce, American values, inferiority and infidelity, to name but a few. Often times, he falls flat, which is entirely reasonable when one takes into account that he makes a movie every year, but once in a while, his recurring neurosis come together so perfectly, they reveal his true genius. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, Allen’s 41st feature film, embodies this culmination brilliantly and is perhaps his most enchanting film in years. It is unmistakably “Woody Allen” but for some cinephiles out there, that is cause for celebration and not reason to run away.
Allen opens MIDNIGHT IN PARIS the way he always does, with plain white titles on a black background and a plucky jazz track playing. Suddenly, he interrupts himself and goes into a montage of Paris postcard shots, spanning a day that sees all the sights, a heavy rain fall and the kind of charm that only an evening in Paris can provide. It isn’t that the montage itself isn’t also quintessentially Allen-esque that is striking; it is the interruption that announces that Allen is alert and making choices instead of just letting everything play out naturally. It also allows the viewer, or any remotely sentimental one anyway, to get fully sucked into the clichéd idea of Paris as the most romantic city in the world. The images themselves are stunning yet subtle, thanks to cinematographer, Darius Khondji (who has worked with Allen once before on ANYTHING ELSE, but we probably shouldn’t talk about that), allowing Paris to be its grand self and showing us very clearly how much Allen is in love with the city.
Owen Wilson is Gil, the Allen figurehead in this story (and a very suitable one at that). He is a successful Hollywood screenwriter who considers all his success to be built on the production of meaningless material. He and his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams, who does materialistic and shallow all too well) find themselves in Paris on her parents’ dime, just as he has decided to try his hand at writing a novel in hopes of achieving a more respectable level of artistry. Their priorities are clearly at odds; she prefers to go out and party while he prefers to soak in the city’s elegance. More importantly, she is of the moment and he cannot help but long for a simpler time, when life was rich and not empty like the constantly moving present. Then one night, Gil gets exactly what he has been longing for. He is mysteriously whisked away to the Paris of yesteryear when the clock strikes midnight. Here he meets artists he has always admired and finds romance he has only dreamed of. If only he wasn’t from another era.
It may sound a little “je ne sais quoi” but MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is truly a magical experience and meant to be absurdist and surreal. The cast is delightful, from Marion Cotillard as Gil’s other world love interest to Michael Sheen as the pedantic windbag archetype Allen loves to mock so much. Paris, past and present, also presents Allen with an opportunity to showcase exquisite production designs and lovely costume pieces. The literary references may go above some heads but aside from that, it is practically impossible not to get caught up in the glamour of it all. Despite all of this allure though, what most distinguishes this work from so much of Allen’s previous work, is Allen’s shift towards resolution. Infamous for being trapped by the past, Allen now moves towards letting go of his illusions of the past, allowing for a catharsis that his films rarely ever achieve.