Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams
Runtime: 100 mins
Midnight in Paris transports us back to a decadent, sumptuous era in a fantasy transferred elegantly into reality: Woody Allen’s fantasy, to be exact. Literature leaping into life is not a theme unfamiliar to him (read his short story “The Kugelmass Episode” where Sidney, expecting to land in the lap of Madame Bovary, unfortunately finds himself mistakenly in Remedial Spanish, and is last seen being chased across a barren landscape by “a large and hairy irregular verb”). Midnight In Paris is Allen’s well-worn saga, lovingly developed and polished, redeeming him from the hit-and-miss relationship trite of his later films such as Melinda and Melinda and Vicky Cristina Barcelona: think more The Purple Rose of Cairo, and you’re along the right track.
This story gloriously and indulgently gratifies the longing of anyone who sees themselves suited to another age. Gil Pender is a man wrestling with his identity as an artist and an American Husband. That is, his charming idealism is humorously long-suffering in the face of his neurotic young Californian fiancée, in unchallenging roles played well by the talented Wilson and McAdams. He wanders the Parisian streets at night on their pre-marital holiday, to escape the harpings of his future wife and in-laws, and along the way drunkenly stumbles into the roaring 20s… meeting the Scott Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Dali. As he wines and dines with his heroes by night, his persona as a husband-to-be by day is questioned.
Woody as ever is a world class analyst of relationships and here he expertly bends his critique to flourish wonderfully against the backdrop of casual time-travel. That is not to say this film isn’t flawed. The shots are utilitarian and seem to want to draw unnecessary attention to the fact that Allen’s chosen city is not New York for once: the Parisian monuments are exercised to death. The appealing idea of visiting the time of your wildest dreams satisfies the plot, and each artistic genius portrayed is a delicious glimpse into what they may have been like in life; yet ultimately they are simply caricatures and negated at the end as figures of the past.
The easy comedy is rewarding, the culture satisfying, the glory of a bygone era tantalisingly touched upon. Yet the audience feels cheated, the subject deserves more depth: the ending is wrapped up altogether too easily. The focus of the film is on the present and leaves the bulk of this stellar cast (Tom Hiddleston, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard…) redundant on the dusty shelf. The message is candidly ambiguous: can the present ever measure up to the splendour we all imagine the past to be?