Saturday, May 28, 2011
Since Woody Allen only acts intermittently in his own films now, his challenge has been to try to find someone to fill in for him. This has resulted in some painful miscasting (Kenneth Bring, Scarlett Johansson -- yes even Scarlett tried playing Woody), some effective alter egos (Larry David), and some head scratchers (Josh Brolin, Colin Farrell). In "Midnight in Paris" he has found an actor who captures the essence of his neuroses but with a kind of laidback, self-deprecating humor that makes it all quite endearing. And the actor is Owen Wilson.
Sony Pictures Classics
Wilson plays Gil, a successful Hollywood writer who wants to write a great novel. He goes to Paris with his bride-to-be, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her conservative parents. He hopes the city of lights will inspire his muse and he can finish his novel. His book is about a character -- not unlike himself and not unlike Allen -- who loves things from a bygone era. But the first thing the city does is highlight a growing tension between Gil and Inez. So one night Gil is trying to find his way back to the hotel and he hails a cab. The cab takes him not to his hotel but back in time to meet Hemingway, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Zelda, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gil is baffled and initially thinks it's some kind of elaborate hoax. But he goes back in time again and meets the fetching Adriana (Marion Cotillard). All this makes Gil downright giddy. Not only is he meeting his literary idols but he's going back to a time that he loves and thinks was far more exciting than his own. He even gets Gertrude Stein (Katy Bates) to read his manuscript and give him notes! What he also discovers is that artists from every generation seem to look back to a previous time as more exciting and innovative.
Woody is in his element here. He may not be in New York but he has come to love European cities with as much passion as his hometown. He gives us a Paris that is magical and romantic. In fact, Inez's negative reaction to the city is an early clue that she is all wrong for Gil and that we will soon be bidding her adieu. The Paris Allen gives us is one that you simply cannot resist, and that appeal is only heightened by taking us back in time to meet literary and artistic greats. The time travel aspect is so casually inserted into the story that we never think to question it. Hey, it's Paris at midnight, why shouldn't magic happen?
SOny Pictures Classics
Allen's writing has returned to an earlier crispness and lightness. This is a romantic comedy with a dazzlingly deft touch, and the object of affection is both the city and the lovely Parisian women Gil meets. Plus, Wilson's Gil feels less like a Woody stand in and more like a character of his own with some Woody-like traits. Cotillard is a lovely addition to Allen's stock company of actors. In fact Allen has such a good ensemble that he can waste talent like McAdams and Michael Sheen on throwaway supporting characters who do little more than humorously annoy us.
"Midnight in Paris" (rated PG-13 for some sexual references and smoking) is a delightful charmer and reminds us of Allen at his comic best. If the crass, raunchy humor of "The Hangover 2" is not to your taste, then this smart, funny, effervescent film should be a refreshing treat.
Companion viewing: "Paris Je T'Aime," "Wild Man Blues," "The Moderns"