Midnight In Paris is this year’s Woody Allen film in which Owen Wilson takes the role Allen is now too old to play. It is a light comedy full of quietly funny scenes and a fantastical premise that it is best not to know anything about going in.
Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a successful Hollywood hack writer who wants to drop everything and move to Paris and work on his first novel. He is also deeply nostalgic for 1920s Paris. His fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams) would rather that he grow up and embrace success and modernity. Choosing to forgo the many social engagements that Inez tries to drag him into, Gil prefers to wander the streets of Paris where, on the stroke of midnight, something odd happens.
The phrase ‘return to form’ has been used with each subsequent Allen film since 2008’s fantastic Vicky Christina Barcelona; but the truth is that it hasn’t been a bad decade for the prolific writer-director. With Small Time Crooks, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Scoop to the more recent Whatever Works and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Allen has made a collection of pleasantly surprising, and often funny, films, whether light or dark in tone. With Midnight In Paris, it is made abundantly clear that he has cornered the market in cheerfully breezy comedies, held together by good, amusing ideas. He doesn’t waste time delving into the intricacies of his fantasy plot, to the point that Gil very quickly accepts the strange environment in which he finds himself. Allen isn’t interested in whether this could actually happen. What concerns him, like in his much earlier Sleeper, is working with the idea he has and developing it in several unexpected but very pleasing ways. To use any of them as examples would be to ruin the fun but, for the sake of critical analysis, they are, for example, the PI’s unfortunate wrong turning and Luis Buñuel’s inability to understand Gil’s movie idea as well as Michael Sheen’s arrogant Paul, Adrien Brody’s Dali or Corey Stoll’s mad, almost unblinking Hemingway. This list could go on and on.
This light tone pervades the film, even in the rather long opening montage of Paris, which shows the city from morning until night. It will no doubt have many critics sneering at the tourist’s eye view of Paris, but it fits the mood of the film absolutely. After all, the film is about a tourist celebrating his idea of Paris, as well as the worth of nostalgia and whether or not it is merely a denial of the present.
Though it does deal with a variety of neuroses, it is a film to enjoy and not to take seriously. Ultimately, light-hearted Woody Allen films fall out of a lot of critical criteria because of their whimsical nature. They are not like other films. They are simple little films which don’t take themselves too seriously and which don’t ask you to either. They have their flaws but, in the end, they are little joys filled with great performances and well-used music.