This movie begins with a three-minute montage of scenes around Paris set to music. And right away, in those few minutes of staring longingly at those boulevards, bridges and familiar landmarks, one is transported into the narrative. Those that have been (to the City of Lights) will want to go back and those that haven’t really should feel like visiting.
Midnight in Paris is about another romantic – a screenwriter named Gil (Owen Wilson) – who is in Paris with his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (played by Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller). From their conversations we gather that Gil is a successful enough screenwriter who feels like his work is pointless and that he should be writing literature. Of course his wife-to-be and her parents are less excited about his desire to move to Paris after the wedding to work on a novel.
To make matters worse Inez meets an old friend named Paul (Michael Sheen), a pretentious pseudo-intellectual who seems to be an ‘expert’ on many aspects of French history and culture. So while Inez is keen to spend more time with Paul, Gil is interested in exploring the city of Paris. So one night when Inez insists on going dancing with her friends, Gil wanders off into post-midnight Paris and makes a discovery that completely changes his world.
Midnight in Paris is about dreamers and wish fulfillment. It is about people who believe that a certain time—other than the one they inhabit in their everyday lives—was a great one. And because this is a movie, Mr. Allen actually allows his leading man to visit with his literary heroes. And find love. Yes I am aware that he is in Paris with his fiancé but in Mr. Allen’s world Inez is just the woman that is around until the right woman comes along.
As gentle fantasies go Midnight in Paris is hard to beat.
Rachel McAdams looks great while playing a consistently mean character throughout the movie. Michael Sheen really seems to relish the role of the pompous prat. Léa Seydoux is lovely in her tiny little role and virtually unrecognizable from the emotionless ass-kicker she played in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Marion Cotillard as Adriana–the woman who opens Gil’s eyes to the possibility of a love he didn’t even know he was missing–looks radiant.
And then there is Owen Wilson. As the tousle-haired stand-in for the director, he is the right mix of befuddlement and adventurer. This is probably the most wide-eyed he has ever been on camera and it is fun to watch.
This whole movie is fun to watch.
There are the cameos by actors like Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, Gad Elmaleh and the French First Lady Carla Bruni. The dialogue is littered with satirical historically-informed asides and it sparkles. The narrative progresses nicely without ever seeming to be in a hurry and Mr. Allen conveys that all will be right with the world in just over ninety minutes.
To my mind that is filmmaking perfection.