Getting out of New York does Woody Allen good. Like Match Point (which Allen shot in London) and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (his first picture in Spain), Midnight in Paris is a terrific picture – an appealing, bubbly, intelligent fantasy made by a director in an unusually playful mood. Allen’s love of Paris shines through every frame — he opens the movie with a montage of cityscapes, as in Manhattan, and makes the cafes, bookshops, open-air markets and museums essential elements of a place you would want to live. (The cinematographer was Darius Khondji, who has often worked with David Fincher.)
Gil (Owen Wilson), a self-described “hack screenwriter” who has come to visit with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents, immediately feels that pull. He marvels at everything Paris has to offer, and one night when Inez goes dancing with mutual friends, he takes a stroll through Montmartre. When the clock strikes midnight, a vintage car pulls up filled with vivacious, not-quite-from-this-era revelers who invite him to climb in and join them.
Among his new acquaintainces: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Luis Bunuel, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Cole Porter, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein and a number of other 1920s Golden Age giants. Gil is initially befuddled — how could this be happening? — but everyone is so welcoming and friendly, he blends in and has the night of his life basking in the company of so much genius.
Naturally, the next morning, when he must return to the contrarian Inez and her mundane itinerary of shopping and antiquing, Gil feels more than a little bored. Allen has cast Midnight in Paris with a terrific ensemble: Kathy Bates plays Stein with the perfect combination of motherly authority (she agrees to read Gil’s novel, which he has refused to show to anyone thus far), and Adrien Brody is particularly amusing as the oddball Dali. When Gil meets and falls for Modigliani’s beautiful former lover (Marion Cotillard), the temptation to remain in the 1920s becomes even stronger.
Despite the frivolous nature of Midnight in Paris, Allen is seriously exploring our tendency to look back on the past with unmitigated nostalgia. “The present is never the golden age,” someone points out, and the present is also always going to be a little unsatisfying, because life is. Choosing to explore these themes by incorporating such acclaimed artists gives the movie a heady kick, and the snappy pace and upbeat mood prove intoxicating. Midnight in Paris initially seems like a departure for Allen, but the prevailing theme blends right in with the rest of his canon: In order to enjoy life at its fullest, you have to live in the moment and savor what you have, instead of fretting about what may be waiting around the next corner.
Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Lea Seydoux, Michael Sheen, Nina Arianda, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston.
Writer-director: Woody Allen.
Producers: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Jaume Roures.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 94 minutes. Vulgar language. Opens Friday June 3 in Miami-Dade: South Beach, Aventura; in Broward: Gateway, Shadowood, Paradise, Pompano