Review: Midnight In Paris (2011)

Woody Allen’s 41st film, Midnight In Paris is a light-hearted comedy set in the city of love: Paris, marks somewhat of a return to form for the exalted writer-director. Though not without its flaws, it’s a charmingly low-key affair that exudes a certain level of enjoyment that’s been missing since the critically-acclaimed Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Gil (Owen Wilson), a successful Hollywood script writer experiencing a mid-life crisis, and his fiance, Inez (Rachel McAdams), travel to Paris with Inez’ wealthy, conservative parents. After realising how little in common he has with his prospective family, Gil heads off into Paris alone, where he not only discovers the ultimate source of inspiration for his pending novel, but also that the life he currently leads may not be the one of his dreams.

The premise is simple enough: a character brought to heady realisation of his present through his overindulgence in the past, but it’s in Allen’s conviction and execution that Midnight In Paris hits notes of brilliance. From the introductory scene comprised of images of the incandescent city of Paris through to the concluding moments, it’s clear Allen is on comfortable terrain, injecting humour, whimsicality and romance in the right places, while keeping the narrative moving along at a very brisk and attentive pace.

By focusing on the idea that people spend too much time romanticising about the past, Allen is exploring incredibly mature material, perhaps even referencing critics’ overbearing need to compare his new films to his old material. However, by by coating this in layers of saccharine and eccentricities, Midnight In Paris retains its bubbly sheen throughout.

At times, the luscious exterior – buoyant cinematography, upbeat yet sickly European soundtrack and forever optimistic mood included – threatens to become too supérfluos, but thanks to Wilson’s wholly engaging, confounded and piquant performance as Gil – his balance between complete confusion and all-out amazement is spot-on – the film is anchored in an indubitable realism, despite the dreamy themes that run throughout the narrative.

He’s supported by a range of familiar faces delivering equally enchanting turns: Rachel McAdams as Gil’s commanding wife-to-be Inez; Michael Sheen as Paul, a know-it-all and antithesis to Gil’s starry-eyed persona; Marion Cotillard as a marvellous incarnation of Adriana, mistress to Picasso and Gil’s idea of a quintessential woman; and Alison Pill as an audacious Zelda Fitzgerald.

While an overloaded cast may not have worked in Allen’s previous film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, he seems to have learned from his mistakes, as each and every face – besides that of Carla Bruni who stumbles in her barely five minute bit-part – conduct themselves consummately.

Amiable, witty, inventive and accessible, Midnight In Paris represents Allen at his best – a director who, while able to reference may of societies current ideals and problems, keeps things to a minimum, opting for an understated approach with all-encompassing characters rather than one overflowing with beliefs and incomprehensible overtures.

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