Dir. by Woody Allen - 1 hr. 34 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
When I saw the trailer for this film, it didn't really register. I wasn't really aware that Woody Allen had directed it (and that wouldn't have necessarily been a selling point for me), and I don't really remember the central idea of the film coming across, either. Could be that I wasn't paying attention, but there wasn't anything that made me jazzed to see this film until I had a bunch of friends tell me separately that it was really good. Thank goodness they were right!
Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) are an engaged couple, vacationing in Paris. For Gil, a screenwriter who is working on his first book, there's no place else on Earth he'd rather be. He's smitten with Paris, but he's the only one. Inez and her family pretty much hate it there, and constantly get annoyed whenever Gil likes anything at all. A couple of Inez's friends are there as well, Paul (Michael Sheen) and Carol (Nina Arianda), but they're too interested in themselves to provide anything more than eye-rolling companionship. One night after a wine-tasting party, Gil over-indulges and gets lost. Eventually, a car stops, and invites him along for a drink. The car takes him to a party, where things are slightly odd.
The central idea of the film - a guy getting to explore what he considers his "golden age" - is a good one, but the execution and exploration of the idea is fantastic. For one thing, it shows Gil's enthusiasm isn't dependent on a given situation. He's genuinely excited about things in general, and wants to explore. In the present time, it seems literally all of the characters are acting at cross-purposes to Gil's best interests, if they're taking them into consideration at all. It's easy to see why a guy like Gil would romanticize another era, if only to escape the relentless negativity surrounding him. And when he falls in with his artistic heroes, it's easy to see the appeal of that: being around people who are really into what they're doing is an energizing experience.
Beyond that, all of the performances are fantastic. Not knowing how this cast of historical figures really were doesn't matter: they all function as fictional characters. Hemingway (Corey Stoll) is almost laughably intense, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) is focused on making art the best that it can be, Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) is a lovable dingbat, Scott (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (Alison Pill) are a train-wreck of drama, and on down the line. It's a bizarre cast of characters, but it all adds up to the literary Disney theme-park ride that you could only dream of. The characters interact in a delightful manner, and if you know anything about their respective careers, you'll realize how clever this film actually is.
Not just for Gil, but for the viewer, this is like an entire vacation in an hour and a half. Paris is beautiful, day or night, sun or rain. The conversation is captivating and witty, the company is great, there's a nearly-endless parade of beautiful people and ideas on display. When Gil comes to his big realization, he (and I) is ready to face the future, make the most of his time, and do something great. That's a beautiful feeling, and "Midnight in Paris" is a beautiful movie.
4.5 / 5 - Blu-Ray