It takes a certain type of moviegoer to fully appreciate the peculiar intrigue that a Woody Allen film evokes. Not everyone finds his style and social commentary appealing. But for his latest romantic comedy “Midnight In Paris,” I can confidently say most anyone can find some pleasure in this uplifting story and leave the theater with a renewed sense of satisfaction seldom found in the frenetic flicks of today’s digitally altered cinema.
Set in the picturesque streets of Paris, Allen’s film unfolds leisurely among the quintessential symbols of the City of Love: Monet’s lily pads, the Luxembourg Gardens, the warm glow of the street lamps glistening over the Seine River that snakes past the Eiffel Tower illuminating the city’s famous skyline.
The protagonist, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) a successful screenwriter, is visiting Paris with his fiancée and her parents. Needing a break from the glitz and grind of Hollywood, Gil aspires to publish his first novel but is distracted and not confident that critics will appreciate it for what it is.
Turned off by the overwhelming presence of his future in-laws, and the “pseudo-intellectual” snootiness of his “friends,” Gil seeks solace by walking the streets of Paris at night in hopes of being inspired by the city’s mystic lore.
One night after too much wine, Gill gets lost in the streets as the clock strikes midnight, only to realize that he has been transported to a different time and place in vintage Paris. Smothered in the smoke-filled speakeasies Gil finds himself rubbing elbows with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and an inebriated Ernest Hemingway. Awe inspired by his literary heroes, Gil becomes profoundly influenced by the decadence and debauchery of the 1920s, only to return to present day in the morning. Soon after, Gil ventures out alone every night to fraternize with the prolific writers, artists, and thinkers that shaped the early 20th Century in hopes of getting feedback for his novel. Split between his troubled relationship with his modern day fiancée, and his lust for a striking beauty of Parisian haute couture, Gil must confront the illusion that a different life would be better than the one he leads.
In “Midnight in Paris” Allen strikes a happy medium that plays on the realist vs. romantic mindset, which tends to reject the stark cynicism of the former and embrace the playful imagination of the latter. Another theme the film hones in on is the nostalgic longing for the past, and how everything in the present never seems as rich or satisfying as it was in the good ole days.
Those familiar with Allen’s films can usually pick up on his keen personality and distinct voice that seeps through the dialogue. It is evident in “Midnight In Paris” and well delivered by Owen Wilson whose curious inflection and similar tone establishes sympathy for the protagonist early on.
Woody Allen films have a tendency to immerse the audience in philosophical intellectualism that at times come off as a bit whiny or too heavy for the average moviegoer. In “Midnight In Paris” this light comedy fused with a budding romance provides a pleasant blend of charm and wit accompanied with plenty of winks and nods to the prominent arts and literature of the past. It is neither campy like “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” nor is it as psychologically provocative as “Annie Hall.”
Allen stays true to his art by delivering a content rich, beautifully shot comedic joy that seeks to entertain us with a lighthearted romance. Replete with glib social commentary, and his trademark inquisitive style, Allen proves he can still gracefully deliver a passionate and charming story, and like French wine, only gets sweeter and richer with age.