Friday, July 20, 2012

Short Take: Midnight in Paris

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

The romantic comedy-fantasy Midnight in Paris, writer-director Woody Allen’s 41st feature, is one of his most charming. It’s also his strongest effort since the 1980s. Owen Wilson plays the film’s protagonist, a Hollywood screenwriter who is increasingly dissatisfied with his life. He wants to leave movies to become a novelist, and while working on his first book, he travels to Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams). The city takes over his imagination. All he can think of are the artists and writers who have called it home across the decades. One night, while out for a stroll, he finds himself in the Jazz Age Paris he’s dreamed about. He spends the next several evenings hobnobbing with the likes of Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody), and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). Stein even reads and offers input on his novel. But the biggest impression is made by a flapper (Marion Cotillard) who idealizes the Belle Époque even more than he does the 1920s. Allen delightfully sets the stage for a parable about nostalgia, and he follows through beautifully. The climactic epiphany about living in the present walks hand-in-hand with the joys of one’s romantic dreams. The performers are a delight as well. Owen Wilson’s ingratiating wistfulness has never been more appealing, and Marion Cotillard is so sweetly sexy that the sight of her is pure reverie. The various 1920s figures are lovingly (and hilariously) portrayed. The most enjoyable is Corey Stoll’s Ernest Hemingway. Allen provides a happy caricature of the writer’s tough-guy pretense, and Stoll puts it over with aplomb. There are also a number of terrific throwaway jokes. The best involves a contemporary fellow who finds himself in the time of the Ancien Régime. The production design of Anne Seibel and Hélène Debreuil beautifully evokes the Paris of today, the 1920s, and the Belle Époque.

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