Friday, 14 October 2011

Film Review: Midnight In Paris


On holiday with his fiancee Inez (McAdams), Hollywood screenwriter Gil (Wilson) takes to wandering Paris' left bank in search of a cure to his creative block. Harking back to the 1920s when a plethora of famous expatriate artists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway called Paris their home, Gil stumbles upon an unexpected source of literary inspiration.

Gil is unfulfilled in his soulless job as a Hollywood script doctor, longing to write a novel which would see him join the pantheon alongside his literary heroes. His superficial fiancee however holds him back, dissuading him from committing to his aspirations in favour of him continuing to pull in the big bucks from his uninspiring Hollywood career. Unsupportive and belittling of his desires, materialistic Inez is more inclined to spend time in Paris shopping, dining with her Tea Party-supporting parents and gallivanting with her invidious pseudo-intellectual friend, Paul (Sheen), rather than let Gil engorge his reluctant muse. That is until Gil takes a midnight stroll only to take a thaumaturgic trip back to 1920s Paris.

Woody Allen has managed to create a wonderfully whimsical tale wholly unconcerned with the mechanics of time travel. Instead, Gil strolls around Paris waiting for midnight to chime when he is picked up by another inebriated chimerical artist in an old Peugeot which whisks him off to hang out with other fabled artists from the period. But there is also a lesson here. There is a tendency to look back on a previous era as an ideal that is better than the present. The central thrust is to grasp your own time, something Gil only realises when delightful love interest Adriana (Cottilard) hastens him to the la belle epoque era of the 1890s to meet Henri Matisse. As the pompous Paul puts it, "Nostalgia is a from of denial". Indeed, no one ever considers their age to be 'golden', even if posterity deems it so.

This is probably the most likeable of all Owen Wilson's roles, genuine and entirely unassuming. He's believably enthused and incredulous at the same time that he's meeting his heroes, and that they're also so accommodating and encouraging of his efforts on his novel in a way his fiancee is not. But then, they weren't legends themselves at the time, constantly encountering and competing against aspiring writers like Gil at Gertrude Stein's (Bates) salon. The other showstopper is Marion Cottilard's Adriana, airy and graceful, emanating a breeze you can't help but feel attracted toward. We meet her as Picasso's bit on the side, but she and Gil soon form a bond which evolves into a love interest. It is Gil's humility which she is attracted to, diametrically opposed to the super egos of troubled genius artists she has previously dated. However, perhaps what's most disappointing is how fleeting the moments spent with Gil's artisan heroes are. From Corey Stoll's portrayal of a very masculine yet tentatively insightful Hemmingway to Adrien Brody's amusing Salvador Dali, you just wish to see more of them. Back in the present McAdams is perfect as off-putting pushy fiance Inez as is Michael Sheen's odious Paul, the self-proclaimed cultural expert whose obnoxious behaviour is typified when he tries to correct a museum tour guide played delightfully, if not briefly, by France's First Lady Carla Bruni.

Darius Khondji's cinematography beautifully captures Paris in the way postcard pictures have evoked so many people's imaginations of the city. Yes, it conveniently ignores all the shit parts, but this is Woody Allen's love letter to gay Paree. Directed with grace and wit, Midnight In Paris is light, completely enamouring and an absolute gem.