Midnight in Paris has been widely hailed as Woody’s best in years—while I remain partial to his underappreciated Vicki Cristina Barcelona, there’s certainly lots to admire in his latest light-hearted cultural lovefest. Like The Purpose Rose of Cairo, Midnight in Paris straddles two worlds: here, successful-playwright-turned-self-conscious-wannabe-novelist Gil (Owen Wilson) is on vacation in Paris with his faux-intellectual fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her neo-conservative, wealthy parents. Frustrated by their complete indifference to his passions and wants, along with a growing realization that Inez isn’t exactly his perfect match—she seems floored by her old classmate Paul’s (Michael Sheen) pseudo-intellectualism, for one thing—Gil takes to wandering the streets of Paris one evening, dreaming longingly of its yesteryear…and when the clock strikes midnight, he finds himself whisked off in a car to the 1920′s, where he encounters such luminaries as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Cole Porter. He discovers he can straddle periods by showing up at the proper place at midnight sharp, and during his delighted forays to legendary homes, which include an offer from Stein to read and analyze the first draft of his debut novel, he finds himself falling for sexy bombshell Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who’s ditched the yawn-inducing pair of Picasso and Hemingway and seems ripe for the pickings. It’s not until he discovers that her idea of the “golden age” is the late 1800′s that he begins questioning his view of eras long gone, eras captured in literature and cinema and art and never forgotten, but perhaps more beautiful and complete when viewed through the prism of history and without the proper perspective.
As befits Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris is chock-full of cultural homages: Hemingway and Stein are just a small sample of the legends Allen parades onscreen. My favorite sequence was a snappy reference to Luis Buñuel’s masterpiece The Exterminating Angel in a hilarious encounter between Gil and the elite director. As a whole, though, I’d describe Midnight in Paris as more charming than particularly funny. It’s quick, witty, and altogether endearing, but the laughs that are evoked tend to be chuckles rather than guffaws. That’s fine, though. Midnight in Paris does an excellent job of capturing the way we all tend to romanticize the past and lose sight of the joys and wonders in the here-and-now, the way we view old lore as magic without its own tribulations. It’s nowhere near as substantive and layered a take as “Mad Men,” but then, Allen only has 90 minutes to get his point across. He mostly does an excellent job. The casting is predominantly strong—I particularly enjoyed Adrien Brody as surrealist Salvador Dali—though I remain befuddled as to why the wretched Rachel McAdams continues to get roles in interesting films. And visually, Allen frequently channels my favorite of his works, Manhattan (1979), using shots that are both tender and sweeping to capture the wonders of Paris. Who wouldn’t want to live there, or at least visit regularly? Anyway: if I had to pinpoint one flaw of Midnight in Paris, it’s that it’s rather forgettable. While it possesses few issues that kept me from wholly enjoying it while in the theater, it also left me with little to ponder or savor after I left it. That said, its charms are plentiful enough to easily recommend it, and to count it as a solid addition to Allen’s lengthy filmography.