In this new movie from 75 year old Woody Allen which might be called a romantic valentine to the city of Paris we spend the first five minutes or so, it seems, looking at landmarks and listening to some jazz and wondering when the story will start. It starts when the rain does, as there is not a better place in the world to walk through the streets when it is raining but Paris.
“Midnight in Paris” is its title. And it is pure fantasy. Imagine a Parisian taxi stopping and picking up someone! Pure fantasy. Imagine the lead character Gil (Owen Wilson – the embodiment of the younger Mr. Allen’s nebbishy screen persona), a writer, traveling back in time to the 1920’s after having too much wine to drink at a tasting party and walking through the streets of Paris for inspiration after being warned by his caustic fiancée Inez (Rachael McAdams) that he would get lost. He does. And is picked up by none other than Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston & Alison Pill) in a vintage car. At Midnight. Pure charming fantasy. Which is never explained. It just happens.
And then he finds the same exact spot the following evening! Again pure fantasy that somehow begins to beguile.
And when he does go back to the past how does he pay? In euros or in francs? Nitpicking, of course. What really matters is the sharp dialogue and comic situations set up by Mr. Allen which has been beautifully photographed by Darius Khondji – making everyone feel that they too might want to move to Paris – give up the present and fall down the rabbit hole of The Lost Generation and meet the likes of Gertrude Stein (a wonderful Kathy Bates) Dali (Adrien Brody) Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) and Hemingway (played with dry humor and gusto by Corey Stoll).
Gil is a successful albeit hack Hollywood screenwriter who wants to write a novel and is in fact doing so as he and his fiancée join her obnoxious parents (Kurt Fuller & Mimi Kennedy) on a business trip to the city of light. He’s unhappy with his present circumstances and through the magic of cinema time travels back to the 1920’s where he meets the magnetic and gorgeous Adriana (Marion Cotillard) who is involved with Picasso and a slew of other famous men but unhappy – wanting to travel back to the “Belle Epoch” which they visit together.
Meanwhile his wife is partying with her ex-boyfriend – a pseudo intellectual pedantic Paul (Michael Sheen) and his new girl played by Broadway’s newest star in a throwaway part (Nina Arianda) while Gil walks the streets for inspiration and joins his new group of friends who accept him at face value much to his astonishment.
Back in the present he meets up with a charming young girl Lea Seydoux (who eerily reminded me of the young Mia Farrow) a seller of vintage Cole Porter records who is featured on the terrific sound track.
Most of the fun is seeing these stars as the famous people of the past and reveling in the. antics that Mr. Allen has set up. It’s a charmer that’s funny without any car chases or action figures or murders or anything being blown up. Just wonderful dialogue. Terrific acting. Beautiful costumes. And stunning scenery.
Carla Bruni, Mrs. Sarkozy plays a museum guide and translates a book that Gil buys at a stand which has a delicious but implausible plot twist. And I suppose the message is be happy with what you’ve got. The grass isn’t any greener elsewhere. Except in Paris.
1hour and 34 minutes.
Photo: Roger Arpajou SONY Pictures Classics
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