Theatrical Review: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
May 18th, 2011

Rating: 3.5/5

Writer: Woody Allen
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS may run the risk of being derided as “lesser” Woody Allen, but just because it happens to be both light and delightful, fleeting and feel-good, does not mean that the film doesn’t possess a very real charm while it asks some very deep questions.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a youngish Hollywood screenwriter looking to make the leap into serious novel-writing. He is successful, but unfulfilled. His fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), is beautiful but vapid - the Malibu lifestyle that Gil’s screenwriting could deliver is what is appealing to her, not the poor Paris garret existence that Gil so desperately wants. Gil seeks intellectual fulfillment, loving Paris as both a place and a state of mind – he is willing to chuck the Hollywood life to live there now, but he would really give anything to live there in the Roaring Twenties, surrounded by the intellectually exciting artists that still inspire him. It’s no surprise that, during a visit to Paris with Inez’s equally silly parents, these ideals would come up against each other.

It is, however, a surprise that MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is still so genuinely amusing and entertaining despite its existential subject matter. Allen utilizes a tricky little plot device to drive his film ahead, one that allows Wilson’s Gil to explore his ruminations on what his life would be like in another place or time, to wonderful and creative effect. Together with a lively and exceedingly game cast, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is fluffy, but by no means lesser.

Wilson works as a nifty amalgamation of what audiences have come to expect from a surrogate Allen character, but with his overwhelming neuroses replaced by curiosity and a desire to make “good” work. It’s a different role for Wilson, one that allows him to both effectively mug out his confusion while also exploring some deeper layers. Rachel McAdams takes on a much more brittle role than we’re used to seeing her play at – she’s got all of the physical charm audiences expect of her, but her Inez is emotionally and mentally just somewhat terrifying.

Dotted with a number of supporting characters, some of the most amusing work in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS comes from these small roles – Corey Stoll’s Ernest and Adrien Brody’s Salvador are the real stand-outs here, bringing life to roles that are already, by their very nature, very vibrant ones to play. And Marion Cotillard is certainly lovely, but so much of that loveliness is what Gil projects on to her – no doubt, a common problem faced by the men of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.

And though we don’t get too much time with Michael Sheen, we’re given quick strokes that make it easy to peg just what the “pedantic” Paul is all about and his importance in the film. Whereas Gil seeks intellectual enlightenment that feeds both the soul and its work, Paul is the sort of guy who is an expert on both Matisse and French wine, but only for the benefit of trotting out long-winded bits of knowledge at cocktail parties, designed and delivered to make everyone else in the room feel inferior (and to make the audience laugh mightily). It is interesting that this is the type of faux intellect that Inez finds truly attractive – it says so much about her interest in surface and appearance, versus actual depth and value.

But despite some of those heavy leanings, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is not a heavy film – it’s frequently just flat-out delightful, combining a comedy of manners (in Inez and her parents’ case – bad ones) with a clever twist on that old “discovering yourself” tale by way of the construct Allen utilizes to change Gil’s life and perspective. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS may serve to ask some meaningful questions about life, happiness, contentment, and fulfillment, but it’s also chockablock with some of Allen’s trademark exchanges between characters that feel both humorously realistic and unnervingly revealing (example: the “we both like pita bread” confession in the film's second act).

There are some missteps here - a third act reveal about Inez is not surprising, but it's also not fleshed-out enough beforehand to flow evenly, and there are some very basic questions about just how Allen’s unexpected plot-twist-slash-device actually works. But, for all the film’s lightness, these issues don’t detract from the enjoyment level of the film at all. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS clips along like the breeziest jaunt down the Seine, delightful and diverting for its entire runtime.

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