Film Review: Woody Allen Scores Another Winner With “Midnight In Paris”
The first thing you should know about Woody Allen’s new picture, “Midnight In Paris,” is that Owen Wilson owns it. His talents having languished in idiot movies from “Bottle Rocket” to “Hall Pass” for fifteen lost years, he finally has a role to prove himself the equal of his sexier brother Luke. Perhaps of more import, he is also the first Woody Allen protagonist who is not simply a mouthpiece for the writer-director’s desires and anxieties, but a fully detailed character who exists in his own right.
While on an engagement vacation in Paris with his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams), Gil (Wilson) accepts a ride in an antique limousine, which takes him back 90 years to an idealized Paris where Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein welcome him into their circle. His midnight adventures in the salons of 1920’s Paris soon raise the suspicions of his fiancée, but not before his affections have tended away from her and towards Picasso’s model Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who is romantically involved with Hemingway as well as Picasso, and has a time-traveling secret of her own that will either whisk Gil away into another period entirely or separate them forever.
Among the picture’s chief amusements are the impersonations of various personages of the twenties, including hilarious routines involving Luis Bunuel, Man Ray, Salvador Dali, and Cole Porter. Kathy Bates makes for a fascinating Gertrude Stein, giving her a warmth not usually associated with the literary madam. Gil’s midnight creeps provide Allen with ammunition for one of his favorite past times, shooting down pretentious bores who spout misinformation. In “Annie Hall, he produced Marshall McLuhan to tell a Columbia professor who taught courses in his theories that he knew nothing of his work. Here, he uses Gil’s first hand experiences with Picasso to vent his frustration with an art history blowhard.
Allen brings more to “Midnight In Paris” than cultural one-upmanship. Within the passing delights of its thin premise, he has effected a reconciliation with the times in which he lives. Although his protagonist is a young writer who, rejecting a successful career as a Hollywood screenwriter, struggles with his first novel, this is the film of a man nearing the end of his productive life, who looks back with dissatisfaction on his work and his world. His yearning to have lived in a time of a greater cultural richness than his own is the passion driving the film, which itself suggests the earlier days of screwball comedy, when Howard Hawks directed Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in “Bringing Up Baby,” the prototype for the comedy about a man who discovers he is affianced to the wrong woman upon meeting a seemingly inappropriate soul mate.
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