Woody Allen seems to make a film every year (and has done for about 30 years) and they’ve all varied wildly in quality. His new release; concerning a Hollywood hack (Owen Wilson) escaping with his wife (Rachel McAdams) to Paris to try and write a novel, is probably his best in a decade.
The film begins with the most tedious pre title sequence I have ever seen, it is essentially a slide show of all the tourist hotspots in Paris (as if Allen thinks we don’t know that Paris is beautiful). Suffice to say they won’t be asking Allen to direct the next James Bond film. However, as soon as the story kicks in we are treated to an array of wonderfully developed characters and a spell binding story at the heart.
I hate to ruin the film’s central story, the less you know the better, but it is very difficult to review this film without spoilers, so here they come…
Owen Wilson plays Gil a writer who wants to visit Paris to be where his literary heroes once stood (F Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway etc) and to hopefully gain inspiration for his novel. Instead, and to the viewer’s and his delight he gets into a classical cab and is taken to the 1920s and shares drinks, dances and jokes with these stars of a bygone era. It may sound ridiculous on paper but somehow on film Woody Allen and his excellent cast execute it perfectly. He may meet everyone we’ve ever heard of from 1920s Paris (including Picasso, Dali, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein amongst others) but it hardly matters, it’s the sheer delight we get from recognising these high culture name drops which makes Midnight in Paris such a delight to watch.
Wilson is the perfect man to stumble around with a look of awe on his face, and he successfully manages to be something other than the usual buffoon he plays in Rom-Coms. He is sweet, charming and on occasion very funny. Marion Cotillard is nothing other than spectacular as Adriana who –like Gil – reminisces about times long gone and personifies the beauty and mysterious qualities of 1920s Paris to the main character. Michael Sheen is perfect as Gil’s fiancé’s pseudo-intellectual friend who is delightfully smarmy and so much fun to dislike.
It isn’t just the fun of hearing all the 1920s pop-references which make Midnight in Paris such a treat, it is the unusual message we learn from the film. It concerns itself with nostalgia a number of times, Gil is writing a novel about a man who owns a nostalgia shop and his novel mirrors himself in many ways. He is getting lost in nostalgia for times long gone when what he should be doing is living the life he wants in the present. It is such an unusual but interesting subject for the film to concern itself with and is one which helps elevate Midnight in Paris from being an unusual but entertaining comedy to a film of true worth.
In short, Woody Allen’s new film is a delightful delve into nostalgia with an clever and funny story supported by an excellently selected cast. Let’s hope that this means Woody is back on track.