Midnight in Paris (2011) | DVD Blu-ray Instant Video
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris follows Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter working on his first novel, on vacation in Paris with his fiancée and her parents. He holds an idealistic view of the city that he hopes will influence his writing. His novel is about a worker in a nostalgia shop. Like his subject, Gil has a longing the past, specifically Paris of the 1920s. As he walks around the city, he is picked up by a car and transported to the era of his dreams. Each night he goes back for more.
It takes a science-fiction premise – time travel – and wraps it in an entirely romantic package. It never becomes bogged down with the details of altering history or the consequences of interacting between millennia. It provides a whimsical tale of comparing the past with the present. Mixed in with the enjoyable escapades are some clear opinions and resolutions to Gil’s nostalgic wonder.
The “pedantic” Paul Bates (Michael Sheen) states that nostalgia is a denial of the modern world. “It’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.” This becomes the crux of Gil’s life. In the 2010s he is surrounded by people he doesn’t like – his future in-laws, his fiancée, and her socialite friends. When he visits the 1920s, he interacts with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, and the effervescently attractive Adriana (Marion Cotillard).
Often, when Allen gives the lead performance to another actor, there is an imitation of the character Allen made popular in his films from the 70s and 80s. With Midnight in Paris, there is some similarity to that classic Allen role – his fear of death, a belief that life is unsatisfying, and a mocking sarcasm to his lot in life – but the film takes these qualities and tailors them for Owen Wilson, making a purely pleasurable movie.
The cinematography is fantastic and encapsulates the city in a marvelous manner. Gil asks, “How is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city?” But this movie manages to capture the magic of Paris. The introduction and transitory scenes show clips of famous locations and hidden streets. The story itself creates an enchanting presentation of Paris at night, but the movie also thrills with its stunning daytime views.
This film expands upon an idea that peppers many of Woody Allen’s movies. Whether he is recreating his childhood or remembering the details of a relationship, his films are full of wistful reminiscences. But there’s something about the combination of Allen’s nostalgia, the romance of Paris, and the alluring aloofness of Owen Wilson that is completely charming. Few movies give me a reason to constantly smile through each scene, but this film delighted me in that exact way.