Review: Midnight in Paris (2011)


Spoiler warning: this review reveals parts of the plot.

Woody Allen’s comic fantasy Midnight in Paris is like a pleasant salad amidst the fatty fare that crowds this summer’s table of movies.  But, like most light summer salads, it is not completely filling.

In the movie, Gil (Owen Wilson, who is decent as the Woody Allen character) is visiting Paris with his scolding fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams, who is not quite right as the shrew).  Gil is a self-described Hollywood hack, but he wants to be a serious novelist—a risky dream Inez does not share.  Annoyed by Inez’s attitude, her parents, and her know-it-all friend Paul (a pompous Michael Sheen), Gil decides to wander the streets of the City of Light on his own one night.  This is where the story takes a fanciful turn.  At midnight, an old-time automobile pulls up and the passengers cajole Gil into joining them.  He goes to a party populated by writers, artists, and musicians, and there he slowly realizes that he has traveled back in time to the Paris of the 1920s.  Lucky Gil gets to hang out with the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and other famous personalities.

Unfortunately these famous figures are never presented as anything more than caricatures.  Hemingway is particularly exaggerated.  Throughout the film, Allen is content to keep things light and never explores these famous artists or their relationships.  In Allen’s defence, he wasn’t trying to make an adaptation of A Moveable Feast.  The problem is that once we move beyond the wonder and charm of the situation we begin to hope for something more substantial.  The moral to the story, that we shouldn’t try to escape our present by idealizing a past time, is nice but nothing profound.  Midnight in Paris remains a simple pleasure.

I would almost want to say that Gil never actually travels back in time, that he is only caught up in his fantasy of Paris in the 1920s, but the one scene showing a private detective from the twenty-first century lost in eighteenth-century Versailles seems to contradict my notion.  This is just one example of Allen choosing a good joke over complexity.

I also wish Allen had gone further with his study of the relationship between Americans and Paris.  Gil is an American who idealizes Paris; the City of Light during the Twenties is his Golden Age.  In contrast, Inez’s mother and father are Republicans who are decidedly not Francophiles; they think Paris is slow and crowded.  More could have been done with this, especially when we consider how many Americans, like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, flocked to Paris in the 1920s.

Content with easy, albeit intellectual, jokes and a clean message, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is delightful summer entertainment for thinking adults.

7 out of 10

Midnight in Paris (USA/Spain, 2011)

Written and directed by Woody Allen; starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, and Marion Cotillard.