Friday, October 7, 2011

New Release Review: Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, 2011)

Midnight in Paris is truly a delight. Woody Allen has built a film that is near impossible not to become immersed in and be enthralled by, even if your knowledge of literature, film and art history and the wonderful characters that define past eras of artistic creation is not up to speed; there is still plenty to admire and enjoy. Woody Allen has infused his highly intellectual screenplay (which is his most wildly imaginative in some time) with plenty of wit, has channeled the neurotic qualities of his persona through Owen Wilson, who delivers a stellar performance, and has created a real treat, and one of the most recommendable film experiences of the year.

Finding himself blown away by his magical discoveries on the streets of Paris, Gil Pender (Wilson) finds his life is changed forever amidst a perplexing realm of nostalgia – which is 75 year-old Woody Allen's way to honour the writers, artists and filmmakers he was inspired by and continues to admire, and capture a city he clearly loves. Midnight in Paris is a declaration of love for Paris, the romance it generates, both between humans and within the Arts, and as a source of inspiration and enlightenment.

The opening reminds one of a tourist video promoting the beauty, tranquility and surrealism of the City of Love through a montage of short shots, capturing all avenues of the city, at first by day and then by night. It isn’t entirely a series of postcard shots (though there are shots of the Champs-Elysees, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, of course) but also consists of quaint alleyways, cafes, parks and foot crossings. There is an effortless beauty to the images but Allen's purpose is to remain restrained - knowing the delights in store for the audience once the clock strikes midnight. It is next-to-impossible to explain the story and enthusiastically discuss the film without revealing the imaginative twists of the plot, so I'll warn you here, there will be a few spoilers later.

Gil Pender is a talented and successful but humble Hollywood screenwriter whose career hasn't reached the imaginative heights he always hoped it would. He has become distracted by the idea of writing a great novel, something of intellectual substance. He is struggling to finish his first one about a man who works in a 'nostalgia store' and wants to absorb the romanticism of Paris for inspiration. He, and his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams), are vacationing there with Inez's wealthy parents (Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller), who are critical of Gil's desire to abandon his lucrative Hollywood career. Inez doesn't share Gil's whimsical qualities and romantic view of Paris, nor his passion for Art, and becomes a tad obsessed with an old friend, Paul (Michael Sheen), who they meet by-chance in a restaurant.

Paul is a pseudo-intellectual, a pompous, pedantic and arrogant man who speaks with great authority and passion about a variety of topics ("He's an expert on French wine") but is often shallow and inaccurate with his insight. Gil finds Paul insufferable and decides to decline an invitation to accompany the party dancing, and walk back to the hotel through the streets of Paris alone. Having become lost, both psychologically (Gil realises his ideals aren't suited to the present era) and geographically, and still feeling a little drunk, he sits down on a set of stairs. Following the nearby chime of a bell, indicating midnight, an antique car of champagne-drinking partygoers stops and invites him to join them. As soon as he enters the car, Gil's life will never be the same again. He meets an eclectic mix of vibrant, colourful company and partakes in lavish parties, dancing and all assortments of eye-opening wonder - and an all-star cast, including Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Tom Hiddleston and Adrien Brody (in one of the best cameo performances, ever) pop up to join in the festivities.

Owen Wilson is sensational. His performances in the films of Wes Anderson were always great but he imbues Gil with a likeable personality and expertly captures Woody Allen's rambling awkwardness. Though, the evidence that Allen has used his central character as a surrogate is far less evident here. Wilson is also quite charming and his comic timing alongside a brilliant Michael Sheen is perfect. The ensemble cast, across the board, is excellent, and all seem to be having a magnificent time. Marion Cotillard is one of the most luminous beauties in the world - and even Gil exclaims that her character Adriana has "one of the best faces ever".

The luscious cinematography from Johanne Debas and Darius Khondji is gorgeous, beautifully capturing the streets of Paris by night. Through expert interior lighting, detailed production design, beautiful period costumes, and a lively soundtrack, the 1920's (okay, so Gil is transported back to the 20's) is recreated not to be accurate, but to replicate how Gil imagined it would have been, with all his idols depicted as eccentric and immediately hospitable.

I’m an admirer of Woody Allen’s work, but I have seen far too little of his 70’s and 80’s resume. Annie Hall is sublime, but I also enjoyed Match Point, Vicki Cristina Barcelona and even Whatever Works. This is immediately a personal favourite. Allen, in addition to critiquing criticism - Paul assumes his opinion of a Picasso to be correct, while Gil's appreciation, having actually experienced a little of the artist and the context, is much more informed and passionate - also implies that artists aren’t content to create in their own era, and reminisce on the past times of their idols, when they believe inspiration was more alive. Gil is in love with a fantasy, with his perfect scenario – walking around Paris (preferably in the rain) in 1920’s with his literary idols – transforming into an alternate reality that ultimately influences his own.

You don’t need to have read a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemmingway, seen a film by Luis Bunuel or be familiar with the work of Pablo Picaso and Salvadore Dali to thoroughly enjoy this film – the fact that you have heard of these artists and recognise their cultural significance, is enough to warrant their involvement in this film to work. I had such a great time. A smile was stretched permanently across my face. I was giddy with excitement from the very beginning; I was charmed by Wilson’s likeable performance and I fell in love with the extremely alluring Frenchwoman, Marion Cotillard, all over again.

Verdict: Midnight in Paris is an absolute delight; a deft blend of amusing ridicule against the pedantic, arrogant variety, a critique of criticism, a whimsical romanticism of the artist and intellectual and a charming, emotionally resonating tale about individualism, and the desire to wholeheartedly fulfill one’s desires and beautiful fantasies. Easily one of the best films of 2011.

My Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 (A-)


  1. I loved this film so much! I am a ginormous Woody Allen fan and this has become my second-most favourite film by him. I connected with this film in a way that hasn't happened in a very long time. The whole idea of romanticising the past and escapism and "golden age thinking" is almost as innate to me as it was ti Gil, or by extension Woody himslef. Wilson by the way has played pone of the best Woody-surrogates ever. I'm so glad to see is him getting recognised outside of the Wes Anderson-verse for his acting. If this year's Best Actor field wasn't already so over-crowded, I would've been rooting for him like none other. Cotillard is gorgeous, as is everyone else in the film. And mind-blowing!

    The music was lovely, Paris magical as ever, and the dialogue was delightful. Best movie I have seen this year thus far.

    Glad that you liked it. Great review :)

  2. I'm glad to see you enjoyed the movie, as I did! It was lovely, I thought the script, Wilson's performance, the cinematography and music were the strong points and it made the movie 10 times better! It was simple, yet very original and enjoyable!
    Great review!

  3. Ah you finally got to see this!!! I think when it comes down to it at the end of the year, Midnight in Paris will definitely be in the top 2 or 3 movies of 2011. Glad to see it delighted you as much as it did for many of us.

  4. This is definitely one of my favorite films of the year. I walked out of that screening with a smile in my face. I want to see it again.

    I love Adrien Brody's cameo as Dali, "the tears of a rhinoceros". I want to waltz with Marion Cotilliard, listen to Cole Porter with Lea Seydoux, walk around Paris with Owen Wilson, and school Paul in the ideas of art. What an intellectual douche-bag.

  5. Midnight in Paris is finally coming to a cinema near me in two weeks - I'm so excited. I was hopeful, but never expected that everyone would love this one so much, it's wonderful.

  6. Yay, only 12 more days until I get to see this! I will definitely be making one of my parents take me to the first available screening...words can't describe how much I need/want to see this! You know what? I haven't actually seen a bad review of this from any of the bloggers. That's great!

  7. @ Nikhat - Wouldn't it be amazing to enter a past era you have romanticised? Everything about this film is lovely. Owen Wilson's performance is just outstanding, but I always thought he had talent. The city was magical, and there was such charm to the production. Woody must have had a wonderful time writing this screenplay.

    @ Aziza - I think it only runs for 90 minutes, so it's relatively short, and though the story is simple, there is so much squeezed in - the critique of critics, romanticising the past, golden age thinking, novelists vs. screenwriters. I hope the film receives the Oscar recognition it deserves.

    @ Castor - I know. Finally. It's not officially released here until the 20th Oct. but I got in early :-p Will almost certainly be in my Top 10 come year end.

    @ Steven - There were so many time in that film I wish I was Gil haha. I'm with you - permanent grin, and need to see it again!!

    @ Mette - Yeah, I was excited when I heard about the idea, but I never expected it to be so well received, or so good! Enjoy!

    @ Stevee - Yeah, Oct. 20 right? Same as us. I think your parents will enjoy it too :-) I'm yet to read a negative review, though there are a few on Rotten Tomatoes from old prudes who probably compared this to Annie Hall and decided it couldn't be compared, so better call it rotten.

    Thanks for the comments, everyone!

  8. Wonderful review! I plan on watching this very soon, finally Owen Wilson showing off some real acting talent again.

  9. It's even better upon a second viewing. So glad you finally got to see it.

  10. This comes out here in less than two weeks, and boy am I excited. I keep reading great reviews like this so can't wait to see it and review it for myself!

  11. @ Adam - Thank you! Yeah, Owen Wilson is as good (better, even) than his best work in a Wes Anderson film.

    @ Sam - I agree. I have seen it twice now and adore it.

    @ Tyler - I hope it meets your expectations. I tried not to read too many reviews, because there are plenty of imaginative spoilers, but it lived up to the buzz!

  12. So glad you loved this, make sure you go back and watch more of his older stuff :)

  13. It was a fairly light movie by Woody Allen standards, but who am I to complain about Lost Generation fanfic?

    My thoughts are here if you're interested:

  14. @ Kid - I certainly will. Woody may be a DOTM in the future!

    @ theoncominghope - Wow, that was a really insightful commentary on the film. Sure, the scenes in the present failed to match those of Gil's trips into the 20's, but I still found them very entertaining.

    I guess it was difficult to believe that Gil would fall for Inez and be in such a serious relationship with her. Surely he would have realised how different and unsupportive she was before he proposed to her. She seems only interested in his success and not his talent, or his desire to be a writer of substance.

    I have only seen a few of Allen's films (mostly from the last decade) so I can't make comparisons to his earlier work (and in part. Manhattan, which seems to be a similar 'love letter to a city' film) nor pick up on the flaws you mention. But thanks for reading, and sending me a link to your site. I'll continue to check it out!

  15. Lovely review. Finally saw the film yesterday and was charmed as well. Highly recommend The Purple Rose of Cairo, something of a companion piece.

  16. I'm glad you enjoyed it too Alex. Thanks for the recommendation. That's Woody Allen and Mia Farrow isn't it??

  17. Trying and failing to write like you.
    The film is one of the realized products of Woody Allen type of cinema-witty and wistful. Such films are generally a frantic description of a slice of time in the lives of the protagonists, who are perpetually bewildered and slightly dissatisfied practitioners of intellectual professions like writing, painting or acting. During that slice of time these protagonist undergo an even more heightened level of bewilderment and dissatisfaction. This makes a Woody Allen film a jaunty ride of gentle wit, fluent intellect and rising confusion.