Midnight in Paris

Movie Information

The Story: A young Hollywood writer with a nostalgia for the 1920s Paris art scene finds himself introduced to his heroes at midnight in an obscure part of town. The Lowdown: Whimsical, magical, delightful and about as perfect as it's possible for a movie to be. A major must-see.
Score:

Genre: Romantic Comedy Fantasy
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Corey Stoll, Alison Pill, Kurt Fuller, Michael Sheen
Rated: PG-13

This isn’t a good Woody Allen movie. No, this is one of the great Woody Allen films. It’s also the best film of the year—at least so far. There isn’t a false note in the entire movie. I sat in the theater from beginning to end as enraptured by the events on the screen as Owen Wilson’s character was by his vision of the city of Paris. Now, it’s worth noting, I suppose, that with the exception of Match Point (2005) and Cassandra’s Dream (2007) (the latter I haven’t seen), I have liked—to one degree or another—all of Allen’s 21st century output. But Midnight in Paris is something else, something different. This is a truly magical work—and not just because magic could be said to be part of its plot.

By now—if you’ve any interest in the film at all—you almost certainly know that the story is about a hack Hollywood screenwriter, Gil (Owen Wilson), who’s in Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her parents, John (Kurt Fuller) and Helen (Mimi Kennedy). Gil is entanced by the city, as he had been on an earlier visit when he toyed with the idea of staying in Paris and attempting to become a “real writer” like his 1920s idols—Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein etc. And he’s been kicking himself over it ever since. The magic of Paris, however, is lost on Inez and even more lost on her ultra-right wing parents. More intolerable to him still is the unexpected presence of Inez’s friends, Paul (Michael Sheen) and Carol (Nina Arianda). Especially Paul, who is a pontificating bore and self-styled expert on everything and given to spouting off often-incorrect observations on art history.

After one outing too many with Inez and her friends and family, Gil bails out after the first part of the evening, opting to walk back to the hotel and work on his book. Inez tells him not to, because he’ll get lost, which he promptly does—in a way. He finds himself in an old and unfamiliar part of Paris where he has no luck finding anyone who speaks English. Then midnight strikes and a chauffeur-driven 1920s car pulls up. Some Americans inside call to him to go with them, whereupon he finds himself in the company of Scott (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill), who insist on taking Gil to a party at Cole’s. There are no prizes for guessing Cole who. And so begin Gil’s midnight adventures among the greats of Paris’ literary and art set. What happens from there is such an unalloyed delight that I’m saying little about it.

It’s not hard to guess that the concept probably stemmed from some point where Allen himself enthused over some Parisian street at night, saying, “You almost expect the Fitzgeralds on their way to a party to pull up in a car at any moment.” The fact that Owen Wilson is the obvious Woody Allen character in this film makes that origin seem all the more likely. Gil has the same interests and tastes as Allen and a not dissimilar way of expressing himself. It should also be noted that Wilson is easily the best Allen substitute Allen has ever had—something I wasn’t certain would be the case no matter how much I like Wilson in the Wes Anderson movies.

The truth, however, is that everyone in the film is perfect for their roles. All the 1920s celebrities that Gil encounters over the course of the film manage to embody—no matter how fleeting their roles—the sense of the real people as we’ve come to know them. Naturally, this makes the film a case of “the more you know of the 1920s Paris art scene, the more you’ll get out of the film,” but Allen is careful to keep it moving so nicely that the uninitiated aren’t apt to feel out of it. You may not, for instance, get the whole gag when Gil suggests a scenario to surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel (Adrien de Van), but you’ll get enough that it won’t leave you baffled.

I haven’t space enough to give this film the praise it deserves, but that might be for the best. Go and see its parade of magic and delights for yourself. That’s the best way. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and smoking.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

38 thoughts on “Midnight in Paris

  1. Ken Hanke

    I actually had more fun with this — and I had a lot of fun with True Grit.

    Too bad you had to bail before Stardust Memories tonight. We were packed. Brian and I watched standing up. I was interested to see that five people walked out. That may be the largest number ever. I think, though, that I’m so used to the film and so willing to go along with flights of fantasy that I don’t think about how odd it might seem. Still, it’s not fair to gauge these things as authoritative in any sense. People leaving in a film they didn’t pay to see aren’t the same as cash customers.

  2. Tonberry

    Yes, very much! If I have one nagging complaint, it’s the Rachel McAdams character, its a little too one note for my tastes. Yet, she is very nice to look at.

  3. Tonberry

    How funny is it? If the trailer is any indication its not very.

    It is very funny. The trailer does a great job of not showing ANY of the best bits, which makes the film so surprising and delightful.

    Of course, if you don’t like Woody Allen’s humor then…

  4. Me

    I love Woody Allens films up until the early 90′s with some exceptions but the jokes in the trailer were awful.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Then don’t go if it worries you and you’re going to fret over every line in the trailer, though I don’t recall anything else like it in the film and it never struck me that it was supposed to be all that funny.

  6. Me

    Trust me it was supposed to be funny during the trailer that stopped the music like it was a punch line. Think i will wait until its on DVD or maybe if its still hanging around after Tree Of Life.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Think i will wait until its on DVD or maybe if its still hanging around after Tree Of Life.

    I think that would probably be all for the best.

  8. Lisa

    I had the pleasure of seeing this film in France — with French subtitles except when the dialogue was in French. Magical, indeed!

    The French were/are up in arms, though, about Allen casting first lady Carla Bruni in a bit part. I didn’t notice her — can you identify what role she played in the film when?

  9. Jessamyn

    She was the tour guide who takes Mr. Insufferable down a peg when he confuses an artist’s wife with a mistress, and who translates the diary.

    Mr. Hanke, thanks for the recommendation – this film was so much fun. Allen only really interests me when he mixes satire (preferably, humor) mixed with something beyond reality, as in Zelig or Alice or even Everything You Wanted to Know… This had everything, and for once I didn’t find Owen Wilson slightly irritating.

    In fact, Wilson is not just an excellent Allen stand-in but in a way better than Allen himself, as it makes more sense that beautiful women would be drawn instantly to Wilson (with Allen’s brain) than to Allen.

  10. Sean Kelley

    I totally agree. This was honestly one of the most charming movies I’ve ever seen. Not only did I walk out of the theater with a smile on my face, but I wore one for the vast majority of the running time as well. It seriously made me want to move to Paris and write. The only downside was that I was so enchanted by Marion Cotillard, I’m finding myself mildly depressed now, as I don’t believe I have much of a shot.

  11. Ken Hanke

    The French were/are up in arms, though, about Allen casting first lady Carla Bruni in a bit part. I didn’t notice her—can you identify what role she played in the film when?

    Sorry. I just now say this. She plays the tour guide talking about Rodin, I believe.

  12. Ken Hanke

    The only downside was that I was so enchanted by Marion Cotillard, I’m finding myself mildly depressed now, as I don’t believe I have much of a shot.

    Well, you could try.

  13. pepiacebo

    I’ve always enjoyed watching Owen Wilson.

    In Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson opens the film with as the perfect Allenesque stammering romantic. He’s a worthy successor to Woody Allen in his Annie Hall days.

    I wasn’t ready for the film to end. An almost perfect movie.

  14. Ken Hanke

    Well, it looks like you might get your wish that it’s still playing here as the same time it’s there. At the very least, it will have lasted right up until the very day opened down yon.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Well, we all knew it was inevitable. Thursday is the last day Midnight in Paris is at The Carolina. 20 weeks ain’t a bad run, though.

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