By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
As the old joke says, nostalgia just ain’t what it used to be. And here’s Woody Allen’s latest comedy to prove it.
That’s because the two films of Allen’s that preceded that one — Vicki Christina Barcelona and Whatever Works — were strong and memorable.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that Midnight in Paris, the writer-director’s 44th film, is a delightful and witty wish-fulfillment fantasy, a tightrope act that impresses us all the way across.
Like Clint Eastwood, Allen keeps delivering, going strong in the twilight of his directorial career. And no longer anchored in New York, he has now concocted cinematic chronicles in London, Barcelona, and Paris as well.
Midnight in Paris opens with a montage, a tribute that celebrates the City of Light in the same way that the opening of Allen’s Manhattan celebrates the City That Never Sleeps.
Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a successful Hollywood screenwriter who wishes he could be the novelist he has always aspired to be. He is writing a novel about a guy who owns a nostalgia shop, but he is stuck.
He has come to Paris with his fiancée (a thankless role played by a miscast Rachel MacAdams) and her parents. They want to see the expected tourist attractions, but Gil — who idealizes and yearns for the Paris of days gone by (the Golden Age of the 1920s, to be precise) when artists would flock to Paris and would turn out important, lasting work in each other’s company, prefers to wander the streets.
Which he does, late at night, and suddenly finds himself in the company of some vaguely familiar writers and artists who couldn’t possibly still be partaking of Paris nightlife.
Because a good deal of the fun of Midnight in Paris is discovering just who Gil runs into and how and by whom they are depicted, let’s drop the narrative description at this point except to say that the literary Paris of the 1920s — of, say, Hemingway and Fitzgerald — is just that, and that Allen’s terrific supporting cast includes such luminaries as Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Michael Sheen, and Marion Cotillard.
Amazed, charmed, seduced, excited, and powerless to resist, and on the verge of some sort of romantic involvement of one sort or another, Gil finds reasons to return late each night — to the consternation and disappointment of his fiancée and her parents — eager to re-experience the good old days while the denizens of the 1920s look back longingly at the turn of that century.
The theme of depending on, and retreating into, fantasy beyond the point of reason has been an abiding one throughout Allen’s writing and directing careers, and this film plays as a companion piece to his earlier and similarly wistful comic fantasy, The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which a fictional Jeff Daniels reached out to living and breathing Mia Farrow from the other side of the movie screen.
Allen has addressed the theme in a winning, playful way, finishing off the soufflé with just a dash of magical realism, a pinch of time travel, and a sprinkling of in jokes and one-liners.
The ensemble is in good form, but it should be mentioned that Wilson, who does not come immediately to mind as a Woody Allen alter ego, does a splendid job of capturing the angst and yearning of his character, and getting the intended laughs with his incredulity and surrender, and does so without abandoning his style or persona by imitating the delivery of his director in the way of quite a few actors before him.
So we’ll always have 3 stars out of 4 for Woody Allen’s fine flight of fancy, Midnight in Paris, a lighthearted and clearheaded comedy that also serves as a love letter to Paris.
Play it again, Woody!