Midnight in Paris

Review by © Jane Freebury

Every time Woody Allen makes a film it shows that he really knows how to use his tools of trade, whether you like the end result or not. And it shows that he has a way with actors, who are in a way his tools of trade too. It seems there is never any shortage of terrific actors willing to work with him, which is a wonder, and somehow he has managed to convince the wife of the French President to make an appearance as a museum guide in his latest too. How does he do it?

Attracting a great cast is no mystery this time. Midnight in Paris is based on a wonderfully rich script, witty and wise, that would work well on its own on radio. It takes me back to the Woody who charmed us with winning movies like the delectable Annie Hall all those years and more than 40 films ago. Maybe he’s in love again..

It is very good to see Owen Wilson back in front of the camera after a critical personal low point recently and he rewards Allen with a relaxed and assured performance as Gil Pender from Pasadena, screenwriter, on a trip to Paris with his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams), who isn’t ready to let Paris work its magic on her the way he is. They meet up with a couple of her friends, one of whom Paul (Martin Sheen) is a pompous, know-it-all, and they have dinner with Inez’s parents who happen to be there on business. However, soon Gil slips away to explore the city on his own, after a glimpse of what life will be like with wife-to-be and family and friends.

One night after the clock strikes midnight, a Peugeot rolls up with revellers who invite Gil to join them. Soon he’s hanging out at salons where the literary and cultural figures of 1920s Paris come to life, including some well-known expat Americans. Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald make his acquaintance, he watches Cole Porter play one his own compositions on piano. Later on that night he visits Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates in a tiny part, but such a good one). She is arguing with Pablo Picasso about the merits of one of his paintings as a representation of his mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard). And the introductions go on and on.

It is impossible not to be charmed by it all. However, it may be that artistic and literary figures of the early 20th century like Ernest Hemingway and Luis Bunuel coming to life won’t have the same charm for people unfamiliar their work, as it does for me.

Nevertheless, this is a charming return to form, at last, for Woody Allen.

In a capsule: A charming return to form, at last, from Woody Allen. The literary and artistic life of Paris in the 1920s is brought to life when a screenwriter visits the city with his fiancé, only to find that it unlocks the romantic adventurer in him.

4 stars