It’s so incredibly easy to fall victim to the allure of the past. Nostalgia is bred and multiplied in enticingly hungry, non-sensical variations that value something so essential and utterly lost. Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris understands the sweet seductiveness and cruel let-down of nostalgia, and explores its duplicity in a playful, charming, and fantastically hopeful depiction of Paris at its best.
Written and directed by neuroses superstar Allen, Midnight In Paris tells the story of Gil (Owen Wilson), a romantic, happy-go-lucky Hollywood screenwriter on vacation in Paris, accompanied by his perpetually nagging fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her snobby parents John and Hellen (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy).
Unfortunately, Gil is the only one particularly taken with the French vacation. Seduced by the lily pond where Monet painted his famous water lilies, and thoroughly charmed by the little vintage record shop where he finds Cole Porter vinyl, Gil wants nothing more than to ditch his successful, swanky career in Hollywood in favor of a Parisian life as a novelist, a la Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald. Inez and company make tremendous fun of Gil’s overly romanticized nostalgia for 20s Paris. Meanwhile, Inez seems more taken with Paul (McAdams’ real life squeeze, Michael Sheen), an old college crush who they encounter by chance in a left bank cafe. In an effort to escape too much sight-seeing with the nauseatingly pretentious Paul, Gil escapes alone for a midnight walk and is transported to the past, the people, and the city he has so thoroughly fallen in love with.
Allen’s newest, and now most profitable film, Midnight In Paris is the New Yorker’s most charmingly optimistic film since his underrated 1996 musical throwback Everyone Says I Love You. Midnight In Paris joins the ranks in the newest chapter of Allen’s career: “the city films” (see Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and the soon to be released Nero Fiddled). However, where the past two depictions of London and Barcelona felt shadowy, interestingly deceptive, and pessimistic, Midnight In Paris seems to adopt the plucky, charming, and often infectious tone of the city in which it’s set. Allen has returned to the warm, fatalistically hilarious, and magical embrace of fantasy and it suits him well.
At the heart of this film’s remarkably quirky charm is Owen Wilson’s wide-eyed portrayal of Gil. As his character must deal with petty and downright cruel jabs from Inez, her parents, and the loathsome Paul, Wilson’s idealistic and almost ridiculous cheerfulness still feels sincere and totally infectious. His plucky, romantic attitude make the more fantastical aspects of the film feel grounded and enjoyable. Without such believable optimism, the farce in Midnight In Paris could easily read as mundane or idiotic. Paris’s seduction of Wilson’s Allen prototype is totally magical and entrancing, in its own right.
Allen’s knack for casting is made even more obvious by the band of supporting performances that Wilson’s Gil mixes and mingles with. Rachel McAdams’ Inez is so thoroughly irritating in the most authentic way possible. Embarrassingly enough, she reminded me of myself, jet-lagged and nagging my significant other in The Louvre, complaining of back pain and too much bread. It was somewhat horrifying to stare into such a beautifully packaged looking glass, but entertaining nonetheless.
Similarly, Michael Sheen is a grade A-hole to the point of recognizably hilarious annoyance; we’ve all met that person, correcting the museum guide and gurgling wine, musing about the seductive bouquet: the worst. These archetypal caricatures only aid in our annoyance with the present, and our longing for the romantic, exciting past of Modernist writers, all night flapper parties, and a life set to a Porter soundtrack. Although within this longing there is a sadness and a sobered realization that nostalgia is an illusory understanding of a different time, Allen still finds magic and hope within its appreciation. Although we may never fully appreciate the era in which we are currently a part of, there can be joy, passion, and hilarity in our misperception of the then and now.
As far as its Oscar future goes, I’m excited about its prospects. Coming off of its three Golden Globe nominations, including one for Best Picture Comedy/Musical, Midnight In Paris has garnered a reputation as not only a commercially successful film, but a critically adored one as well. Depending on how a few unreleased films are received, Midnight In Paris could very well take the token comedy spot in the Best Picture category. I also feel that Woody Allen could earn a Best Original Screenplay nod, along with a possible nomination for Best Director. I’m not seeing any acting nominations, but still feel that it will scoop up enough technical and creative nominations to garner it a win or two come O day.
Did you see Midnight In Paris? Did you also nag your boyfriend in The Louvre? Weigh in in the comments section.