‘Midnight In Paris’ Review
A charming exploration of nostalgia. And Woody Allen.
Midnight in Paris is every bibliophile’s and every romanticist’s dream. Woody Allen (in his 41st directorial effort!) returns with a film that only Woody Allen can do.
Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson) is a successful Hollywood screenwriter, with a beautiful fiancee and a comfortable life. Yet, he dreams of one day joining the ranks of his heroes, the great Americans writers of the early 20th century, by completing his first novel. The film starts with him and his fiancee going to Paris. To his fiancee, it is a city where she goes shopping and pretends that cares about art, to Gil however, Paris is the city that one point housed his literary heroes, and his fascination with 1920s Paris.
One day, he gets lost in Paris on his way home. As the clock strikes midnight, he finds himself in 1920s Paris, and he finally gets the chance to meet all his literary heroes.
Excuse me for borrowing Disney’s terminology, but Midnight in Paris is indeed magical. The journey we go through 1920s Paris is just as fascinating to us as it is to Gil, and thanks to Woody Allen’s writing and direction, the Paris of yore comes alive, and is the just as romanticised as every English Literature and Arts major imagined it.
However, Midnight in Paris is not only about how great it would be to live in 1920s Paris, it is a deconstruction of our nostalgic fascination with the past. Whether it is 1920s Paris, 1950s America, 1960s Egypt or Victorian England, there are always periods in history regarded as the epitome of society and culture, that we mention with phrase “those were the times”. What Midnight in Paris explores such nostalgic sentiments, deconstructs the reason behind them, and observe those who hold them, and it does so without a hint of cynicism.
Owen Wilson is perfect as the “Woody Allen” protagonist, and this might his best performance to date. His fascination with the people he meets is sincere, and his disbelief with the situation is relatable. Rachel McAdams plays against type in this film, and despite her relatively short screentime, she delivers a worthy performance.
However, the film’s charm comes from the plethora of actors playing the historical artistic figures, from Corey Stoll playing a hardened Hemingway, to Alison Pill delivering a feisty Zelda Fitzgerald to Kathy Bates embodying the tough, no nonsense Gertrude Stein. Even Adrien Brody, whose screen time barely crosses the five minute mark, makes his wonderful mark as the eccentric-is-an-understatement Salvador Dali.
It is very easy to like Midnight in Paris, and even the most cynical viewer will succumb to its wit and charm. Despite the film’s literary fixation, you don’t need to share the Gil’s interests to enjoy his fantasy. After all, nostalgia is a very common, almost universal sentiment, and while the film may not necessarily speak about you, it will certainly speak to you.