sat 14/12/2019

Midnight in Paris | reviews, news & interviews

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen hankers for the 1920s of Hemingway and Fitzgerald in a slight but pleasing return to familiar themes

An American in Paris: Owen Wilson steps out with Marion Cotillard

Waiting for Woody Allen to turn in a half-decent movie is bit like inching through a recession. The green shoots of recovery are constantly hoped for, but slow to show. Now and then the new one will come along and seem marginally less dire, but prove all too chimerical. How many of the films in the last decade does anyone remember for the right reasons? And don't say Vicky Cristina Barcelona with its atrocious voiceover and pervy lesbo snog. So unremittingly abject were Allen’s preceding European films set in London that anything would have looked like the Venus de Milo standing next to them.

No, the man who gave us Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters would seem with every passing submission to be ever more busted a flush. And then a film like Midnight in Paris comes along and you wonder, you just wonder. Could the green shoots finally be here?

So it’s not a masterpiece. But, reassuringly, for the first time at least in his European travels we find Allen on safer ground. He may be in Paris, gawping at it in the jazz-accompanied opening sequence like a tourist struck down with Stendhal Syndrome. He may be gripped by a mad psychotic delusion that Monet's aquatic garden can be enjoyed in blissful solitude. But his American characters are types largely known to us from previous films. As Gil Pender, Owen Wilson plays a WASP version of Allen’s familiar nebbish, a writer visited by feelings of creative self-loathing which are not remotely eased by his hardass fiancée (Rachel McAdams, wearing the trousers well), nor indeed the preening know-all (Michael Sheen, splendid) they hook up with in Paris to tour the sights. If you closed your eyes, instead of Sheen, McAdams and Wilson (pictured right) you could be watching Diane Keaton bumping into her ex Wallace Shawn (“He’s a genius!”) in Manhattan while Woody splutters about pseudo-intellectual pretension.

Wilson’s corny fantasy – and it really is corny – is to move not just to Paris, but to the Paris of the 1920s. Clearly this is impossible, until wandering alone one midnight through the streets to be alone with his thoughts after an evening with his girlfriend and her ghastly Francophobe parents, a vintage Peugeot swings by, a door opens and he is beckoned in, only to be tipped out at a party attended by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and a terrific turn from Alison Pill, pictured above), who are being serenaded by Cole Porter. Wilson, who’s always been well fitted for playing the blunter tools in the box, telegraphs amazement and excitement with a lovely deft warmth, and he is soon introduced to a magnificently macho Hemingway (Corey Stoll), then Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) who breaks off from carpeting Picasso for his latest vulgar aberration to read Gil’s manuscript.

 

The comedy of namechecking the great figures who flocked to Paris in the Twenties could easily wear thin, but somehow doesn’t. “TS Eliot?!” he says when a Tom Eliot introduces himself another midnight. “Where I come from people measure out their lives with coke spoons.” Lovely. Dalí (Adrien Brody) offers to plant a portrait of Gil's lips in a desert landscape also featuring a rhinoceros. Man Ray, delightfully, isn’t at all thrown by the news that Gil’s from the future. Indeed, Gil grows so acclimatised to his new stomping ground that he starts offering script ideas about a locked room to a baffled Buñuel.

What specifically lures him back to the Twenties is the prospect of bumping into a scrumptious artist’s muse (Marion Cotillard) who has been through most of the Cubists but seems to have eyes only for this hesitant interloper. The only problem is that she, too, is nostalgic for the even more distant yesteryear of the Belle Époque, whither we in due course travel back by coach-and-pair. It’s like A Midsummer Night’s Inception.

There’s not much point in dwelling on the film’s flimsy homily about learning to live in the here and now, represented by a sexy young French shopgirl (Léa Seydoux) who flits in and out of the film as if channelling the ghost of Mariel Hemingway. But on the way there are pleasures aplenty, including playful evocations of Allen’s previous out-of-body/time-swap romances The Purple Rose of Cairo and Zelig. There are also some agreeable side-swipes at Tea Party Republicans, a nervy little cameo from the wife of the President of France (Carla Bruni pictured with Wilson), and Allen even pays France the compliment of allowing the Post-Impressionists to talk to one another in French without subtitles. And although Wilson, all bow-legged cowboy lope and Aryan swagger, is the polar opposite of his director, he is likeable in a role that is no shallower than any of Allen’s other angsty alter egos. “Have you ever hunted?” Hemingway asks him. “Only for bargains,” says Gil. Now that’s a joke good enough to make you hanker for the Manhattan of the 1970s. But as Woody knows, you can never go back.

Watch the trailer to Midnight in Paris

The comedy of namechecking the great figures who flocked to Paris in the Twenties could easily wear thin, but somehow doesn’t

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Comments

Great Flick! Stoll should get an oscar, or even perhaps Sheen.

Really enjoyed this fllm. A fair review, and one that doesn't perhaps appreciate both Match Point and Whatever Works being decent enough recent offerings, but a nice film.

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