It is remarkable to think just how long and varied of a career Woody Allen has had. His decades long body of work has already earned him the status of a legendary filmmaker, yet that has hardly slowed him down from constantly pushing himself to be a better writer and director. And recently, we are seeing a freshness in his work that only reaffirms his true talent as a filmmaker.
To be honest, it use to be that Woody Allen was kind of hit-or-miss. Of course, he has his classic films like Annie Hall and Manhattan, but more recently, for every Match Point or Vicky Christina Barcelona we would find films like Whatever Works which, despite starring Larry David, seemed to fall flat and felt more like an off-Broadway play than a feature film.
Luckily, Allen seems to be on a roll recently. Midnight in Paris is one of his films that is able to achieve that rare combination of brilliant dialogue and strong performances that we have come to know and love.
It is here that I would normally give a quick plot recap of the film to give context to the review, but I really do think this film is most enjoyable if you go in knowing nothing more than what was given in the trailer. I know some people don’t like going into films completely blind, but I do suggest that you skip the next paragraph if you want the full experience.
The film follows American screenwriter Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a lost writer struggling with his first novel while on vacation in Paris with his finance (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. As a quintessential writer, Gil is unhappy in his present time and constantly fantasizes about living in the “golden-age” of Paris in the 1920s. Then one night while wandering the streets at midnight, he is picked up by an old-style car and transported back into this very world that he admires, where he meets his literary heros, from Hemingway to Dali.
Woody Allen is the only director to successfully put the theater experience on the big screen in a way that is accessible to a large audience. What this really means is that while he may not have the most elaborate coverage or the edgiest editing, he trusts his actors to give honest and compelling performances. What is interesting is that both Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams can give over-the-top performances in the wrong project, but under the right direction are incredible actors who give the perfect balance between honesty, reality, and comedy.
On a technical note, while the cinematography and editing take a back seat to showcasing the cast’s performance, the individual shots are quite beautiful in a way that captures the essence of Paris’ beauty. In fact, one of my favorite sequences was the opening montage of the film, consisting simply of shots of both iconic and normal Paris scenery. The audience was able to fall in love with the city even before a line of dialogue was spoken.
Own Wilson is surprisingly perfect for this role. With his naive romanticism and easy-going demeanor, he creates a performance that is easy for an audience to connect and identify with. And McAdams is a perfect counterpart for Wilson’s character, starting out as a perfect “dream girlfriend” that any guy would kill to have, which slowly transitions to more of a manipulative, distanced character. The only trouble is at points McAdam’s acting is so strong that it is easy to forget that you aren’t suppose to necessarily like her character. Thankfully, the writing and directing is solid enough that soon the audience is following Gil’s journey every step of the way.
Unfortunately I can’t talk to much about one of the most surprising supporting roles in the film from Marion Cotillard (Inception, Nine) without giving away the film’s premise, except to say that this is a brilliant role for her. She is one of the few remaining actresses these days to transcend simply being hot and having a true classic beauty to her. The film as a whole is filled with entertaining supporting roles from Michael Sheen as a pompous intellectual, Kathy Bates, and Adrien Brody.
But what is really great about Midnight in Paris is the passion you can feel from Allen’s writing and directing. This film really feels like a Woody Allen passion project; the type of film he’s been wanting to make for years. His recent trend of shooting outside his hometown of New York City and not starring in his films had allowed him to break his usual comedy mold and concentrate on making a great film. All in all, I am a fan of this new Woody Allen, who’s films have recently gone from campy comedies to more serious stories about self-discovery.
In the end, Midnight in Paris is a fun and engaging film about nostalgia, and about how people always envy the past for seeming better than the present.