It’s pretty much standard to hail every new Woody Allen film as a “return to form”. Now, Midnight in Paris may not be vintage Allen, but it is one of his finer efforts in recent years, and like many of Allen’s films over the last decade or so, it is set in a major European city. This time Paris, and the opening four minutes is a love letter to the city, showing its many facets and attractions. This light hearted fantasy has become the highest grossing film in Allen’s career, scoring over $56 million at the domestic box office, (and an Oscar nomination) showing that the aging auteur is still as relevant to cinema in the 21st Century as he has been for the last forty years.
Midnight In Paris stars Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams as Gil and Inez, an American couple visiting the city. They are joined by Inez’s parents, who feel that their daughter could find herself a better man, with Inez’s father in particular taking umbrage with Gil’s politics. Gil is a Hollywood screenwriter, finishing his first novel, who has the romantic notion of living in the French capital. However, she isn’t as enamoured with the city and is eager to get back to California. They meet Inez’s old friend Paul (Michael Sheen), a dilettante who takes them on an educational tour – much to the chagrin of Gil. One night Inez wants to go dancing with Paul, and Gil decided to take a walk through the city of lights, during his meander he discovers a time portal that sends him back to 1920s Paris, where he meets the likes of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and the illuminating Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who Gil begins to fall in love with.
Owen Wilson manages to capture the essence of Woody Allen in the lead role, delivering a performance that is much better than some of his recent paycheck efforts. Meanwhile, Rachel McAdams manages to come across as unlikeable and bland, while Michael Sheen’s Paul has the right measure of arrogance and charm to make his small role count. Marion Cotillard works well opposite Wilson and the pair have decent chemistry, which makes Gil’s absorption into 1920s Paris seem plausible, despite its fantastical aspects.
The time travelling aspect of the film isn’t explained, and rightfully so, adding a bit of movie magic to Allen’s latest opus – and the first hour of Midnight in Paris is great. However, the film begins to lose steam in the last third, with the climax seeming rushed and neat. Too neat, with the film clocking in at less than ninety minutes, something of a worry when you consider that the first four minutes of the film is a musical montage. It’s a slight niggle, and it’s best that Allen leaves his audience wanting more, anticipating his next film, one that is already on the way.