Midnight In Paris


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"For some, Midnight In Paris will be first love; for others, a delicious encounter with an old flame."

He adored Paris. He idolised it out of all proportion. Who would have thought that at the age of 75 Woody Allen could fall passionately in love with another great city a world away from Manhattan, and that he could love it with all the ebulliance, the poetry of youth? Sure, it takes a younger man to express that passion - Owen Wilson in a career best performance curiously reminiscent of Allen himself, here an American writer abroad struggling to make sense of the world and himself - but he's a young singer performing an old familiar song in a film which both questions nostalgia and suffuses itself in it.

Paris is an easy city to fall in love with, but that's partly why this film is so striking. It takes rare talent indeed to capture such frequently photographed beauty in a manner that once again takes the breath away. For some, Midnight In Paris will be first love; for others, a delicious encounter with an old flame.

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The writer is Gil, ambitious, insecure, trying to create something important and gradually coming to understand the vulnerability that process requires. As he struggles with his existential difficulties, his brusque fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her painfully New World parents breeze around looking for expensive antiques, dismissing everything else as tat.

Inez also starts spending more and more time with her friend Paul (Michael Sheen), whom she idolises and everybody else refers to as 'the pedantic one'. Frustrated, Gil starts wandering the streets on his own at night. When a group of drunken strangers in a handsome old car persuade him to attend a party with them, he finds himself transported somewhere quite unexpected.

"It's almost science fiction," says Kathy Bates' Gertrude Stein, commenting on Gil's manuscript. From one point of view, this is a story about time travel, but like the best science fiction it's more complicated than that. Gil's nightly sojourns in the 1920s have as much to teach him about the present as about the past, and Allen is also challenging our understanding of time itself.

An artist never stands alone; all true creative work forms part of a conversation, and in this sense Gil's conversations with the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Louis Bunuel would be appropriate in any time. When he meets Adrianna (Marion Cotillard), a beautiful young fashion designer who has had affairs with several artists, he apologises for calling her a groupie, yet his adventures reveal his own need to associate himself with others whom he esteems, until he is finally ready to find his own voice.

Like much of Allen's best work, this is an ensemble film with a terrific supporting cast. It's greatest weakness is in its depiction of the unsympathetic modern characters, who come across as too cartoonish and two-dimensional, though Mimi Kennedy injects both depth and a more convincing streak of viciousness. Everyone else is spot on. Corey Stoll makes a dashing (and hilarious) Hemingway; Vincent Menjou Cortes brings dignity and complexity to Toulouse-Lautrec, glimpsed in an earlier era; and Adrien Brody's take on Salvador Dali, shouting about rhinoceroses, is a delight. Cotillard is beguiling as ever, her Adrianna clearly a rival for Inez, but Allen has grown up now. This isn't ultimately about the girl. Paris is the true object and source of love - the writer's muse.

This is Allen's best work for at least a decade and the most captivating romantic film you will see this year. Don't miss it.

Reviewed on: 04 Oct 2011
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A struggling writer visiting Paris with his fiancee explores the city's illustrious past in order to find his real passions.
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James Benefield ***1/2

Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Corey Stoll, Michael Sheen, Alison Pill, Kathy Bates, Mimi Kennedy, Adrien Brody

Year: 2011

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Spain, US


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