In the film Midnight in Paris, Michael Sheen’s character, a delightfully pedantic, probably insufferable archetype in the Woody Allen vein, says that nostalgia is essentially “denial of the pains of the present” or something. He continues to pretentiously rag on Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) and his wish to write a novel about a nostalgia shop. A desire for the past. This is something Gil holds very close to his heart. He is about to get married to Inez (Rachel McAdams), someone who is obviously not very right for him. And then, as he traverses through Paris in the late hours, he manages to find himself in Paris…only, in the 1920’s. And there, he falls in love with Adriana (Marion Cotillard).
Woody Allen, whose films have a distinct taste about them (they all kind of feel the same for some people) presents the dilemma in an admirable fashion. Falling in love not only with a woman from another era, but the era itself. The subject matter, its existential roots, is something Ingmar Bergman may have tapped into if he had wanted too, but would have been burdened by its art house style. Here, Allen presents and explores this kind of existentialism without beleaguering the viewer. It explores the subject like an art film without feeling like one.
Enough with the existential gibberish. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is literally perfection. No, it is not under the technical way “perfect” but it is nearly impossible to find anything in the film to dislike. Even Michael Sheen’s pedant is likable in a bizarre way. Each frame is struck with gold, the cinematography perfectly portraying Allen and Pender’s love for Paris.
Wilson finds himself in 1920’s Paris. This statement alone is nothing compared to what he actually finds there. Paris during the Jazz Age was the home of artistic geniuses like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, Cole Porter, and Ernest Hemingway. And they all make an appearance, each played pitch perfectly by their respective actor. Not only do they capture the essence of the people they’re playing, but they capture Wilson’s romanticized version of them. So, F. Scott and his wife Zelda are kooky drinkers, Hemingway speaking in that broken but eloquent language, Stein is smart and kind of a mother to them all, Dali is insane and obsessed with rhinoceroses, etc.
Adriana is played by Marion Cotillard. Early in the film, Stein and Picasso argue over Picasso’s portrait of her drenching in sexuality, but Adriana having a significantly subtler beauty than he portrays. Cotillard, who is as gorgeous as she is versatile, is the personification of Paris. She is Paris in all her overt beauty and all her subtle perfection. She is the light of the Eiffel Tower. As much as she is a representation of that, Cotillard is marvelous in the film.
Owen Wilson plays struggling writer Gil Pender perfectly. Yeah, a lot of Allen’s films involve a struggling someone who is sarcastic, acerbic, and a bit self-deprecating, maybe even self-pitying. If that’s not yoru style, you already do not care for Woody Allen’s films or his style of comedy. Even so, with that in mind, you should definitely give Midnight in Paris a chance. As opposed to other actors (including Allen himself) who’ve just used the Allen persona and not done anything with it, Wilson makes the character his own. What he says is refreshing and funny. It is no surprise that he is essentially playing that persona, and those who are not really fans of Wilson in general will actually be impressed. This is undoubtedly one of Wilson’s best performances. He hits all the right notes and delivers Allen’s lines perfectly.
I cannot articulate how much I love this film without sounding stupid. I have been asked several times to what era I would time travel if given the chance. Without fail, I have answered each time with “I would go back to the 1920s and live in Paris”. One can try to imagine my excitement at the notion of the film. With the sense of humor I have and the things I’m interested in, this would have been the film I would have made if I were a director. Every element, every frame, and every character is perfect fodder for my interests. Seeing Cole Porter at the piano croon “Let’s Do It Let’s Fall in Love)”, seeing Adrien Brody as Dali blather on about being Dali and seeing rhinoceroses, and seeing Tim Hiddleston and Alison Pill as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald drinking all garnered the same infectious reaction form me: complete glee. Rachel McAdams also gets props for being the bitchy fiancée. It is kind of amusing, because, if you think of it, she’s channeling her inner Regina George.
The feeling the film creates is infectiously wonderful. It is romantic. Despite it being a Woody Allen film, it is practically devoid of real cynicism. Yes, McAdams and Sheen are “cynical”, but the film itself is nothing but optimistic and romantic. Every actor and every character looks like they are blessed to be there. It is rare to see a film that emulates and radiates pure romance and joy. Midnight in Paris does so perfectly.
Midnight in Paris is without a doubt my favorite film I’ve seen this year. With its pure joy, its exquisite cinematography, and its delightful performances, it is an exceptional movie going experience. Never have I desired to live and fall in love in Paris more than having seen this film. Adriana said it well when she wrote, “That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.” However, my feelings for the film can be described astutely by some wonderful Cole Porter lyrics: “I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles.”