I had a smile on my face from the moment Woody Allen’s latest film began, with an idyllic series of Parisian street scenes set to the music of jazz great Sidney Bechet…and the film maintained that lovely quality all the way to the finale. Allen may be a fatalist, as he often claims, but this film is whimsical and romantic—a divertissement that recalls one of his most endearing and original comedies, The Purple Rose of Cairo.
Owen Wilson is the latest in a long line of Woody surrogates (since the filmmaker has backed away from starring in his own movies) and not only fills the part quite well but manages to make it his own. He and his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) have traveled to Paris where, inspired by the echoes of great writers and artists who gathered there in the 1920s, he hopes to put in some serious time working on a novel. Instead, he is magically transported back to that time and encounters a dizzying array of famous figures. The more involved he becomes in that world, the less he is able to —
—relate to what’s going on in his present-day life.
It would be a crime to reveal any more; the film should properly unfold as a series of surprises.
Midnight in Paris requires the viewer to accept its fantastic premise without question. It also demands that you take the set-up at face value, even though future husband and wife Wilson and McAdams don’t seem to be on the same wavelength. In other words, this is not a film that will stand up to intense scrutiny. You must be willing to go along on Wilson’s wistful, imaginary journey, or you shouldn’t set foot in the theater.
Allen’s films aren’t noted for their beauty, but this one is an exception. Cinematographer Darius Khondji, who worked with the filmmaker once before (on his unfortunate misfire Anything Else), has shot an idealized Paris, especially at night, that makes you want to book airline tickets tomorrow morning. He bathes the time-warp scenes in a warm glow that’s equally appealing.
The soundtrack is filled with Allen favorites like Bechet (in real life an American ex-pat who was lionized in Paris) playing “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere,” along with vintage Cole Porter songs and such evocative tunes as “Parlez-moi D’Amour,” played on—what else?—an accordion.
Working, as usual, with casting veteran Juliet Taylor (in collaboration with Patricia DiCerto and Stéphanie Foenkinos), Allen has found the ideal actor for each and every role, including Michael Sheen, a luminous Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller, as McAdams’ wealthy (and stodgy) parents who have little use for their prospective son-in-law, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali, and even the First Lady of France, Carla Bruni, as a sympathetic interpreter.
Midnight in Paris isn’t just a love letter to the City of Light and its mystique; it’s a paean to dreamers and romantics, however illogical they may be. We don’t see many films like that nowadays, which makes this one stand out all the more. I loved it.