Cate's Review: Woody Allen's 'Midnight in Paris' is a Whimsical Trip
by Cate Hahneman
June 13, 2011
I have never been to France, but after seeing Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, I feel like I've walked the cobblestone streets and fallen in love with old Pairee. Even from my squeaky view in a cold, cramped movie theater I was swept up by the whirlwind of Edith Piaf's crackling tunes and postcard shots of the world's most romantic city. Allen's script about an engaged couple accompanying the bride-to-be's parents on a trip to Paris is charming, funny, honest, and most importantly playful. But I will make one suggestion for those interested in seeing Midnight in Paris—don't read any reviews about the film! (Except this one of course.)
What may have made my viewing experience so magical was that I knew very little about the plot and so it's surprising turn to whimsy caught me off guard, in the best way possible. I promise to keep this review spoiler free so that you all can watch Allen's latest unfold organically and discover along with the film's lead just what happens in Paris after the clock strikes midnight.
Speaking of the film's protagonist, Owen Wilson appears as Gil, a writer struggling to finish his novel; he also appears as Owen Wilson, his voice and demeanor completely unchanged from his real-life self and all of his roles in Wedding Crashers, Cars, The Darjeeling Limited, Shanghai Noon, etc, etc, etc. My theory here of course is that Woody Allen sees Wilson's fast-talking goofiness as a new generation's version of, well, Woody Allen. So if you can get over the irritated grudge you've been holding against the crooked-nosed brother of Luke you will actually really enjoy his performance.
As immediately as the very first scene, Wilson ignites Gil with a sense of wonder, awe, and nostalgia that is rarely attributed to adults and often scoffed at as naive, especially by his viciously passive aggressive fiance (the surprisingly mean Rachel McAdams). All Gil wants to do is wander the Labyrinth-like streets of Paris in the rain; all McAdams' cruel Inez wants is to complain and shadow Paul (the hilarious Michael Sheen), a desperately pedantic friend who rivals Gil for his fiance's attention. Clearly, this couple is not on the same page but Gil is too timid to stand up to Inez and so he suffers a constant barrage of insults and mockery; in one scene the pair are shopping for furniture with Inez's mother and when Gil hesitates over an expensive price tag his future mother-in-law mumbles "cheap is cheap."
Poor Gil finds himself alone one evening as Inez goes dancing with the omni-present and omni-irritating Paul. As is apparently easy in the winding roads of the old city, or so my family who has traveled there told me, Gil ends up completely and utterly lost. But when a distant clock tower strikes twelve he discovers the magical, and yes nostalgic, version of Paris he's been longing for.
Think what you may of Woody Allen, I have certainly not enjoyed many of his recent films save for Match Point, but Midnight in Paris might be one of Allen's bests. For all its intellectual references and quirky conversations among a group of adults, the film is not so distinctly "Woody Allen" that it can't stand on its own two feet. In fact, I often forgot while watching Gil's adventure unfold that it was written and directed by Allen at all; though now that the house lights have gone up and I've left the movie behind I believe we all ought to give Woody some overdue credit. The best part of Midnight in Paris is that you become so drunk on romance and whimsy and nostalgia yourself that nothing else matters.
There are several other cast members that deserve a bit of recognition. Marion Cotillard is both fragile and strong as a mysterious woman Wilson meets and Allison Pill makes a couple appearances as a vivacious and loud mouthed southern caught in the whirlwind of Paris lights. Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy play Inez's uptight, wealthy folks who make no attempt to hide their disdain for Gil; and last, but certainly not least, keep your eyes out for Nina Arianda as Paul's girlfriend Carol who is locked at his hip, endlessly impressed by his self-proclaimed expertise, and acts as a parrot restating all of his impressive knowledge. They all add perfectly to the humor of Allen's piece.
Midnight in Paris is a story about longing for the past because the present is dissatisfying. It's not only about a writer's need to find inspiration, but also about that time in one's adult life where you just don't know where you're supposed to be headed. Gil so desperately wants a change that he has to literally get lost to find his own voice. But since Gil exists in the movies he is lucky enough to learn his life lesson on a whimsical trip to the city of lights. And we're lucky too, because we get to watch.
Rating: 9 out of 10