The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Midnight in Parise
Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams get romantic in the world's most romantic city.

The back half of Woody Allen's career is a prime case study for film scholars. Cranking out movies at a rate of one per year, he's been all over the map in terms of quality. He might put out a dud (Anything Else, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), then follow it up a few months later with something more solid (Vicky Christina Barcelona, Small Time Crooks). Every once in a great while, seemingly out of nowhere, he knocks one out of the park (Match Point). It's that sort of inconsistency that makes Allen simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. Even some of his "lesser" movies that I liked, such as Whatever Works or Scoop, seemed to start off strong and grow tired by the end. Midnight in Paris certainly avoids that problem, finding exactly the right groove for its story and staying there. It easily ranks among Allen's best works.

Owen Wilson plays Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter not content with his lot in life. He wants to write literature, but is having trouble as he pens his debut novel. Gil and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) are vacationing in Paris with her snooty parents. It's a dream locale for Gil, who has romanticized the bohemian lifestyle of Paris in the 1920s. He wishes he could have lived and written in that period. Inez is more interested in partaking of Parisian nightlife, so while she goes off dancing, he wanders the streets. Whenever the clock strikes midnight, he enters a kind of time warp, where he's suddenly in the 20s, mingling with the likes of Mr. and Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), and Salvadore Dali (Adrien Brody), among others. He also strikes up a flirtation with a young woman named Adriana (Marion Cotillard) who is instinctually drawn to creative artists. His nightly journeys start to make Gil doubt his relationship with Inez, who ridicules his "golden era" fantasies. But how can you abandon reality and live in a fantasy?

Midnight in Paris works on two levels. On one, it's kind of like an arthouse Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, with Gil having encounters with historical people who have inspired him. It's amusing to watch who he bumps into and how he reacts to each of them. On a deeper level, the movie is a meditation on the dangers of romanticizing a bygone era, especially when you're only focusing on a single aspect of it. When I was in college, I had a friend who wanted to live in the 1960s because she was a huge fan of the music from that time. The devastating assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr. never entered her mind, nor did the Vietnam War. Gil gets a chance to briefly live in the time he thinks is right for him and is surprised by what he learns. The story suggests that any creativity one might possess comes from the very now-ness of our existence. Trying to recapture something from the past is therefore a betrayal of one's own inspiration.

A big part of what makes Midnight in Paris so enjoyable is the breezy tone it takes. Many of Woody Allen's movies try a little too hard to reach for meaning, or haul out the same themes he's returned to again and again, to diminishing returns. There are some surface similarities here to Purple Rose of Cairo, in which a movie star magically walks off the screen and into the real world. There's even a pinch of Annie Hall, in that one scene finds a pompous, pedantic moron (played to perfection by Michael Sheen) getting schooled in what a work of art is "really" about. Mostly, though, the movie avoids getting bogged down in the usual Allen-esque neuroses. It simply tells its story and allows the theme to emerge naturally. That makes it both entertaining and meaningful.

All the performances are wonderful. Owen Wilson does a more muted version of his usual shtick, but it's refreshing to see an actor not trying to channel his inner Woody in a Woody Allen picture. Adrien Brody steals the show as Dali, delivering a cameo that provides one of the comedic high points. McAdams and Cotillard are aces as the very different women in Gil's life, each of whom teaches him things that will help him as a person as well as a writer.

I suspect that Midnight in Paris is the kind of film that grows on you. I thoroughly enjoyed it while I was in my theater seat, and driving away afterward, I felt my affection increasing as I pondered the story. Woody Allen has made a whole lot of movies. Sometimes he stumbles, but sometimes he delivers a winner. Midnight in Paris is a winner.

( 1/2 out of four)

Midnight in Paris is rated PG-13 for some sexual references and smoking.. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.