MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011) / Comedy-Fantasy

Running Length: 94 minutes
MPAA Classification: PG-13 for some sexual references and smoking.

Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Michael Sheen, Corey Stoll, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Tom Hiddleston
Director: Woody Allen
Producer: Lefty Aronson, Stephen Tenebaum, Jaume Roures
Screenplay: Woody Allen

As the summer fast approaches, the movie theaters of America begin to become crowded. Blockbuster season is within reach. Students released from school prepare to flood the beaches of both the east and west coast. At night, they take to the local cinema, in search of both a good movie and a way to spend their hard-earned money. Substance is irrelevant. The star-studded action vehicles and the loud explosionfests and the special effects extravaganzas are what they really want to see, and who can blame them? Kids will be kids.

Well about that same time of year, Midnight in Paris was released to mainstream audiences. Immediately, it found both critical and commercial success, and for good reason, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to see it then. See, my expectations for the movies of late are never high. So much cinematic crap has circulated from theater to theater over the past year or so that I simply don’t have any trust in any of them at all. Call me what you want, but I’ve wasted a good amount of money this year on movies that have put me to sleep and I don’t intend on doing it anymore.

Needless to say, when I finally did watch Midnight in Paris last night, I was pleasantly surprised. Not too surprised, as I am well-aware of Woody Allen and I take a liking to most of his work, but more surprised than I thought that I would be. Here is a film that has enough humor in it to make it a comedy, enough romance in it to make it romantic, enough heart in it to make it heartfelt, and enough charm in it to gross 150 million dollars at the box office.

The premise for Midnight in Paris is a familiar one, but not an overused one. We center on Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) and his wife, Inez (Rachel McAdams), as they are vacationing in Paris with Inez’s parents, played by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy. Gil is a nice guy. He’s affable and easygoing. His wife, on the other hand, isn’t. She’s uptight and slightly intolerant of him, and more concerned with the wealthier side of Paris, while Gil would rather just explore the city and admire the culture and historical significance.

One night, Gil decides to wander the streets of Paris by himself, drunk. When the clock strikes midnight, he is approached by an antique car and invited inside. He is dubious, but drunk, so he gets in. Eventually, they arrive at a bar and Gil realizes that he has transported back to the 1920’s. He talks to the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, who offers to show Gil’s unfinished novel to classic to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), but when Gil leaves the bar to go and get it, he discovers that he is back in present time.

As the film progresses, Gil begins to develop an attraction for the mistress of Pablo Picasso, Adriana (Marion Cotillard.) He becomes more distant from his wife and she and her parents become suspicious of his late-night wanderings, leading to her father even hiring a private investigator.

Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s 46th feature film, and it seems strangely different from the rest of his work. It’s as if we’re getting a different side of the man, a brighter side. There is none of that cynical humor that is so prevalent in most of his films. The lead character, Gil, is lighthearted and is not so beset on pointing out all of the faults of mankind. He’s genial. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t like the leads in other Allen films like Whatever Works and Annie Hall; I’m just saying that it’s nice to have a change.

Of course, this “change” might have something to do with the casting of comedic actor Owen Wilson as Gil. Wilson brings a large amount of charm and charisma and likability to his character, which is something that is hard to find in a Woody Allen film, and his performance really helps contribute to the overall mood. Surprisingly enough, he makes for a great lead. (Hopefully, it will help get Wilson back on his feet, for he’s been out of work lately.) But there are other great performances besides Wilson’s, and almost all of them are brief. Adrien Brody is only present for one scene, in which he plays Salvador Dali, and Michael Sheen plays Paul Bates, the intellectual friend of Inez who seems to know very little of what he’s actually talking about. I found the film’s best supporting performance to come from Corey Stoll, a relatively unknown actor who plays the character of Ernestt Hemingway with such subtlety. If it wasn’t for his small amount of screen time, I’d bet on an Oscar nomination.

The general look of the film is attractive as well and visually stimulating. Each shot looks like a postcard; all of the bright and luminescent colors show Allen’s love for the city of Paris. He captures the fairy tale aspect of it beautifully. This is by far his best-looking film and I’m sure that many others will agree.

Simply put, I enjoyed myself. I had a great time. Sure, Midnight in Paris isn’t magnificent or a masterpiece, but it does have a certain quality about it that isn’t found in most other films. It’s undemanding and requires not a whole lot of thought. It’s funny, low-key, and an escape from all of the darkness and dreariness out there in the world, and in the end, that’s really all that you can ask for.

Final rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

© 2012 Stephen Earnest

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