CAPSULE: Woody Allen has returned to writing light and fun comedy for this whimsical fantasy of Paris past. Gil, a talented writer, is soon to marry a beautiful woman from a rich family. Visiting France with his fiancée's parents, he dreams of Paris of the 1920s with some of history's greatest artists. Woody Allen has made many films since his excellent CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, most of which are at best only partially successful. This is his most satisfying film in decades, a film with wit and ideas that is primarily about romanticism, illusion, and nostalgia. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Spoiler-free: I have tried to avoid spoilers, though telling the main premise of the film is itself a spoiler.
Woody Allen is a comic turned writer and filmmaker. As a writer his forte was a sort of tall tale written with an intellectual setting and titles like "The Whore of Mensa". Eventually he proved to be a major talent as a filmmaker for a streak of films. That streak culminated with CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989). Since that film he has flailed about, making many rather minor films. Most people I talk to say he did two or three good films in that time, but there is no strong consensus on just which films those are. I rather liked his BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1984), a tall tale of a Broadway actor so bad that a gangland-related play producer has him murdered. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is another tall tale, this one with a both literary and sci-fi touch. This one could almost be an episode of "The Twilight Zone", but with the sophisticated humor of Woody Allen.
The film opens with an extended photo-essay of the beauty of Paris filmed by Darius Khondji. It is important for the story for the viewer to be convinced that Paris is the most beautiful and romantic city in the world. And Woody Allen has a knack for romanticizing settings in big cities that is convincing. One might almost believe for the course of this film that he loves Paris now more than his beloved Manhattan.
Gil (played by Owen Wilson) is a successful screenwriter, but he is also an aspiring and talented novelist. He has more talent than taste, apparently, since he is engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams), a beautiful but spoiled and selfish daughter of a nouveau riche Tea Party member. Gil's liberal viewpoint brings him to clash with his soon-to-be father-in-law. Gil is fascinated by the vanished world of Paris of the 1920s, which was a magnet for international luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He is nostalgic for this Paris that he knows but he never really saw, and the materialistic Inez does not understand his attraction. But the disagreement may be coming to a crisis as Gil is thinking of throwing over his wealthy lifestyle built on studio money and coming to Paris to write novels like his literary heroes did.
This is the basis for a fantasy that Allen mines for some of his best humor in years. He has assembled a good cast of supporting characters including Michael Sheen who seems to have been tempted away from playing Tony Blair. Particularly fun are Corey Stoll, Alison Pill, Kathy Bates, and especially Adrien Brody.
Woody Allen has given us a constantly engaging fantasy, light and funny. It is as if he has reached into the past and pulled out the writer he was in his younger days. Young Woody Allen, it is great to see you again. Rating +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1605783/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/midnight_in_paris/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper