A longing for another time has never been far from many of Woody Allen’s films. Many of his movies take place in a past (Radio Days, Bullets Over Broadway) that’s recreated, if not idyllically, then certainly with rose-colored glasses. His latest, Midnight in Paris, examines Allen’s longing for the past. His onscreen surrogate gets to experience what life was like in the City of Light during the 1920s, only to find that perhaps he doesn’t quite belong in the era he’s obsessed over.
Gil (Owen Wilson) is the romantic in question, a screenwriter from Hollywood visiting Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams). While he’s enamored with the city’s history and longs to live there, she’s far too busy planning their wedding and having her head turned by a pompous intellectual (Michael Sheen). One night, Gil goes for a walk to clear his head and stops to catch his breath, only to find an antique Peugeot pull up and offer him a ride. He impulsively gets in the car and soon finds himself at a rollicking party, rubbing shoulders with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who introduce him to Luis Bunuel and Cole Porter, among others. Gil wakes up the next morning thinking it was all a dream, yet he returns to the magical spot, is transported once more and he soon finds other members of the Lost Generation, meeting Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Salvador Dali, among others.
This is Allen’s most charming film in years. He renders his artistic heroes in a positive light but resists the temptation to portray them as larger than life. He’s able to generate plenty of laughs by slightly exaggerating these artists’ eccentricities, yet he never makes them the butt of the joke. Wilson is surprisingly good, his boyish awkwardness being a nice balance to the intensity of his literary heroes.
Allen’s film is a valentine to Paris and all of the romance and possibilities it embodies. While his perception of the past remains idealistic, there is a sense that he’s acknowledged that there’s no time like the present to generate, if not great art, then personal experiences that will be worth recalling in years to come.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.