Given that time travel is usually the realm of science, flux capacitors and robomen causing paradoxes it is extremely refreshing to see it used for literary and other artsy gains in Woody Allen’s latest . The prolific director/writer/former actor is second to none, perhaps other than Clint Eastwood in terms of putting out new films in extremely quick succession, so there are bound to be hits and misses, but it is pleasing to report that Midnight in Paris is a definite hit, and his best effort in many years.
Midnight in Paris tells the story of Gil Pender (Owen Wilson doing, naturally in an Allen film, his best Woody Allen impression), a successful Hollywood writer who hates his job and possibly Inez, who is unfortunately also his fiancée. During a trip to Paris with Inez, her dreadful parents and a gloriously slimy Michael Sheen, his lifelong dream is realised and, as the clocks chime midnight, he is transported back to the 1920s where he meets a veritable catalogue of great artists, from a charming F. Scott Fitzgerald to an utterly insane Salvador Dali. During this time he inspires Un Chien Andalou and falls in love with Adriana, Marion Cotillard playing the muse of Picasso, Hemingway and just about everyone else.
This premise, the logistics of which are never really explained, would fall down as a list of celebrity cameos if it weren’t for the witty and charming script which whisks us from scene to scene, constantly entertained (and, very importantly, laughing) wondering, nay anticipating, who we’ll meet next, with occasional bum notes on logic and slightly one dimensional characterisation. Thankfully the screenplay is realised perfectly by an almost impeccable cast. Owen Wilson is lovely as a bumbling husband-to-be, politely ignoring the constant putdowns bestowed upon him ‘cheap is cheap,’ being the most repeated by Rachel McAdam’s venomous mother, who hogs many of the more memorable present day moments alongside Kurt Fuller. Each historical figure is realised in exactly the way we would like to imagine them, Fitzgerald being a caring but bamboozled husband, Hemingway (depressingly one of the less impressive acting roles) a ridiculously poetic drunken lout and Dali, as previously mentioned, completely mental, in one of the funniest and most rhinoceros focussed scenes of the piece.
Script aside, the cinematography and lighting effects do an excellent job of conveying when and where we are, with the dark greys and blacks of the 21st Century replaced by gently glowing orange yellow lights of the 20s, an era which somehow feels genuinely cosier through Woody’s lens in comfortably furnitured rooms cluttered with art and history. It does however create something of a disconnect with Gil, as the audience never feels lost as he does, with clear camerawork throughout, but then again, this is a beautiful world, that should be experienced fully.
Overall, despite its small flaws, Midnight in Paris is an utter delight, devoid of harsh language, shocking violence or anything else that could detract from our experience of a more innocent man in a more innocent time, and it is notable how a film packed full of nostalgia can create a sense of longing for the past of movies, where everything was simpler, and being jolly was a respectable aim (it definitely still should be). It should also be commended for proving that time travel is not limited to space, lasers and Dr. Who, but open to all genres of cinema.
Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Stars: Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams
Run Time: 94 minutes