Paris being famous as a city of romance, it’s no surprise that Woody Allen would set his latest romantic film there. However, Midnight In Paris holds a number of surprises, including the casting of lead actor, Owen Wilson. The blondest of the Wilson brothers, Owen’s typical role is that of the goofy-yet-good-looking man-child (or cocky animated race car) rather than the artist or intellectual. As Gil Pender, he plays a successful Hollywood screenwriter working on a novel as a way to redeem himself as an artiste. When he and his fiancee Inez (played by Rachel McAdams) come to Paris, Gil is mesmerized by the city and fantasizes about how wonderful the city must have been during the 1920s. Inez reignites a dormant crush when she runs into an old friend (a pedantic intellectual played by Michael Sheen), while Gil is literally taken by car back in time to the 20s. Each midnight, as he sneaks out on a visit to the past, he meets more and more of his idols, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso (Gertrude Stein even critiques his manuscript). One evening he meets Picasso’s girlfriend Adriana (played by luminous French actress Marion Cotillard — remember her from Inception?). Despite being surrounded by so many artistic giants, Gil finds himself more excited about spending time with Adriana.
After a while I was able to settle into Wilson as the scruffy writer, hair mussed by having run fingers through it in thought. His usual air of naivete served him well and gave him a convincingly starry-eyed quality when meeting his idols in person. It also helped to convince me that Paris in the Jazz Age truly was as magical as it seemed to be in his eyes. McAdams gave a good performance, but as Miss Wrong, she really didn’t have much development over the course of the movie. Basically her role consisted of telling Gil each night that if he would rather “stay in the hotel and work”, she was going to enjoy her time in Paris with her friend. (In a bit of humourous self-reference, it takes Hemingway’s observation that the protagonist of Gil’s novel is unconvincing in his ignorance of his fiancee’s obvious attraction to her pedantic male friend to snap Gil awake to his own situation.)
The time travel element was a fun bit of fantasy, but it got awkward when it started to become more than just a dream of Gil’s. When Inez’s father hired a detective to follow him at night, the detective actually got stuck in the past himself. That attempt to make the time travel a real part of the world of the movie takes it further into the realm of sci-fi and in fact later the time travel aspect expands even further. If you’ve read my blog you know I love sci-fi, but this movie has absolutely no tone of science fiction about it. In fact, another possible self-reference comes when Stein suggests that Gil’s novel (since it is set in our present day, i.e. her future) reads like a work of science fiction. Nevertheless, another Rachel McAdams movie uses time travel but isn’t truly science fiction: The Time Traveler’s Wife was able to use such a story device realistically while maintaining the dramatic feel of the movie.
The themes of this movie (which are accessible to the point of being almost pedantic) were a bit unexpected as well. Appearing at first as a romance between a man and a woman, or a romance with the city of Paris, in the end it was more about how we romanticize the past and how we tend to think of another era as the “golden age”. As someone who did not complete a major in History, I found that idea intriguing and I think it was handled well overall. I enjoy thinking about these kinds of ideas; it’s fun to be carried off into a fantastical past; and the city of Paris on film always looks beautiful, glamourous, and dressed for an evening out. (4 out of 5)