Woody Allen’s Charming ‘Midnight in Paris’ Delights

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CHICAGO – Writer/director Woody Allen and the amazing cinematographer Darius Khondji (“Seven,” “The City of Lost Children”) very purposefully open their new film “Midnight in Paris” with a long series of static shots of the title city before even presenting a cast list. You see, Paris is a cast member in this film. The sun rises, people hustle and bustle through Paris, they sip coffee in cafes, the lights go on at dusk, and the city sleeps. Forget all the travel brochures you could see – the opening segment serves as a love letter to Paris that both makes you want to go and better understand the spell that it is about to be cast on the lead character of Allen’s most purely enjoyable film in years.

A filmmaker that most of us never thought would successfully leave the city he chronicled so beautifully in the prime of his career (New York) has now proven to be one of cinema’s most interesting travelers, delivering an acidic look at London in “Match Point” and a sexually-charged take on one of the most beautiful cities in the world in “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” In many ways, “Midnight in Paris” is his most loving ode to a non-U.S. city yet as he tells the charming and funny tale of a man who gets so caught up in his romantic vision of it that he ignores the rest of his world. With one of the best lead performances that Allen has directed in years along with a stellar supporting cast and Allen’s most insightful and enjoyable screenplay since the mid-‘90s, “Midnight in Paris” is a lovely summer surprise.

Midnight in Paris
Midnight in Paris
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) has come to Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller & Mimi Kennedy) while dad is there on business. He’s working on a novel about a man who works in a nostalgia shop and too often lives in the past. While creating this world in his book, he wanders the streets of Paris, wondering what it must have been like back in the day. He too finds himself nostalgic for a more romantic time. The “meta” quality of the film can make your head hurt if you think about the fact that Woody Allen has often himself been accused of living in the past creatively – One nostalgic filmmaker writing a nostalgic character who is also writing a nostalgic character.

All this sets the stage for the fantasy conceit of the film. One night after a particularly “successful” wine tasting, a drunken Gil finds himself in a small square as the clock strikes midnight. A car pulls up and he’s ordered by some party goers to get in. When he gets to their location, he hears a man playing piano who sounds an awful lot like Cole Porter. Then he meets Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and her husband F. Scott (Tom Hiddleston, nearly unrecognizable as the same guy who just played Loki in “Thor”). It’s not long before he’s hanging with Hemingway (a fantastic Corey Stoll, best-known for “Law & Order: Los Angeles), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody).

Midnight in Paris
Midnight in Paris
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

Gil returns to this millennium every morning and goes back to the creative explosion of the ‘20s every night. As he does so he begins to ignore what’s going on his real world and becomes entranced with a lovely lady named Adriana (a fictional creation played by the luminous Marion Cotillard). Gil starts to wonder if he would trade modern medicine to live forever with Adriana and let Gertrude Stein be his editor.

As for the cast of “Midnight in Paris,” Allen has assembled one of his most successful ensembles in over a decade. Owen Wilson proves he can still be charming when he’s cast in the right material, bringing an engaging boyishness to what could have been an archetypal “Allen neurotic.” He’s likable without looking like he’s trying too hard (as he often does). And the supporting cast is uniformly great. From Stoll’s movie-stealing moments as Hemingway to a great little bit for Brody as Dali, Allen perfectly put this group together. Even Michael Sheen and Lea Seydoux in small “real time” roles deliver memorable performances.

Midnight in Paris
Midnight in Paris
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

Of course, a Woody Allen movie doesn’t work without a strong script and “Midnight in Paris” is one of its Oscar winner’s best in years. Ignore the fascinating personal insight about nostalgic authors and just focus on the wordplay. Like his best comedies, “Paris” is incredibly complex (mostly in its literary references) and yet always feels remarkably light on its feet. Allen hasn’t been this creatively inspired in some time and that joie de vivre was clearly contagious, as the entire cast rose to the occasion.

It’s easy to make a love letter to a beautiful city, right? Get a cameraman as ridiculously talented as Khondji and set him loose on one of the most cinematically captivating cities in history. But the genius of Allen’s film is that it digs deeper than the surface. It is not just about a city but about how that city can inspire creativity and passion. It’s inspiring to see one of history’s best filmmakers delivering again.

”Midnight in Paris” stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Michael Sheen, Carla Bruni, Lea Seydoux, Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, Corey Stoll, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, and Adrien Brody. It was written and directed by Woody Allen. It opens in Chicago on May 27th, 2011.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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