Midnight in Paris

Time for the Oscars means it is time for this Drunken Movie Critic to go see some movies!! Some are good (artsy, well-written, soul-crushing), and others are awful beyond all reason (the make-up artists and tech-geeks need a category, too).

All this searching through Academy Award Nominations brought me to a name I had not heard in a few years. Woody Allen. Now, it is not that Mr. Allen has been slacking, quite the contrary, it seems that every year he writes a new movie. I guess this is the first Woody Allen movie since 2008 that anyone has told me to care about. So long, Vicky Christina Barcelona.

Midnight in Paris takes us away from the streets of Allen’s typical NYC backdrop and follows screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson), who is on sabbatical with his girlfriend Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family. Frustrated with his girlfriend and her uppity, pretentious friends, he longs for the Paris of the 1920’s, when the Moulin Rouge was thumping, when artists like Picasso mingled with Hemmingway and T.S. Eliot; they gathered together to share ideas and foster creativity. Gil wanders the gorgeous Parisian streets, searching for inspiration when then clock strikes midnight and, next thing you know, he gets into a car and is transported to the 1920s.

I am actually thoroughly glad that the mechanism for time travel is not explained. If watching Battlestar Gallactica, Futurama and Hot Tub Time Machine have taught me anything, over-explaining the impossible is a waste of valuable screen time. Focusing on the plot device takes away momentum from the actual plot, so, well played Mr. Allen.

Another strong move, Woody Allen did not play the male lead in this film. I am glad the urge to play the whiny, Jewish, Brooklyn born misanthrope who is cast beside a gorgeous young blonde is long over. Casting Owen Wilson was a stroke of genius. Wilson comes across as lost and innocent, like a really educated pot head. Gil has dreams and aspirations but is weighted down by those around him. Wilson does not try to mimic Allen, but instead plays the character with charisma and longing that helps you connect instantly with Gil.

The true test comes when Gil is transported to his ideal society. He meets the artists, writers and musicians of the past, he is completely in his element. Mint Juleps start flowing and soon Gil is enticed to return this century night after night. It is fun to see him light up as he meets the most famous members of Paris’ Bohemian underground. Well, I think they are too rich to be called Bohemian, but I could not think of the right word. Be prepared for the cavalcade of famous 1920’s figures that pop up — all of them played with such ferocity. In lesser hands, the iconic and flamboyant personalities (like Salvador Dali or Zelda Fitzgerald) would be played as clownish caricatures but they are genuinely funny. Be prepared, they are also plentiful.

Marion Cotillard is endearing as Adriana, the mysterious muse who flits from artist to artist. Another shining star is Michael Sheen, who plays a pompous know-it-all who uses his intellect to emasculate men and impress women. In fact, I cannot think of a single person in this film who was not good. I mean, even Rachel McAdams as girlfriend Inez, delivers her feisty jabs with humorous nuance.

This film is beautifully put together. From the key theme of nostalgia and using the past to connect with the present, Woody Allen has woven together fantasy and reality. Nostalgia is not just for those living in 2011, in fact, we learn that those in 1920s long to return to the 1880s and so on. A never-ending loop of people wishing for simpler times.

I highly recommend the film Midnight in Paris. If you are a fan of Woody Allen, this is a great display of his wit and artistry. If you are unfamiliar with his work, then this is a very light, entertaining way to lose your Allen virginity. But if for some reason you miss out on Midnight in Paris, don’t worry, Woody Allen will have another film out in a few months.

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