Published Jun 02, 2011In form and execution, Midnight in Paris is much like a rudimentary, but intriguing academic essay, set up with a thesis, arguments and a logical conclusion, with minor wit and comedy sprucing up its undisguised and overt agenda. The topic du jour is that of nostalgia and its use as an idealized crux for those unable to cope with their present life.
It's presented through successful-cum-hack screenwriter Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), whose euphuistic apotheosizing of '20s Paris while visiting exacerbates and magnifies his current struggle to write a great novel that would, in theory, boost his status from indelicate Hollywood puppet to legitimate writer. His fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), has no such illusions about the past or Paris, much preferring the glitz and immediate gratification of the California lifestyle, idealizing instead her pedantic professor "bestie," Paul (Michael Sheen).
This obvious counterbalance is made peculiar by the central premise and supernatural element, wherein Gil is able to travel back to the '20s at the stroke of midnight to banter with Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston). He also receives literary criticism from Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and strikes up a flirtation with art groupie Adriana (Marion Cotillard), whose nostalgia for the Belle Époque period fleshes out the formula by making Gil confront his own delusions.
This structure, along with much of the quick-paced, theatrical dialogue, propels Allen's latest European diversion with sheer character dynamics and familiarity intrigue. It's fun to see Wilson try his damnedest to make the pompous Sheen look stupid and to see Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill) behave erratically, while Luis Bunuel (Adrien de Van) acts confused when confronted with the premise of The Exterminating Angel.
It's just that the excess indulgence and meandering plotlines that take place in the '20s tend to drag on well after their purpose has been served, making the film itself sort of hypocritical, scoffing at the male tendency to idealize times past while itself perversely embellishing its past with a fetishistic fascination. (Mongrel Media)