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movie review—Midnight In Paris

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
June 8, 2011 4:15 AM
5 Comments
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I had a smile on my face from the moment Woody Allen’s latest film began, with an idyllic series of Parisian street scenes set to the music of jazz great Sidney Bechet…and the film maintained that lovely quality all the way to the finale. Allen may be a fatalist, as he often claims, but this film is whimsical and romantic—a divertissement that recalls one of his most endearing and original comedies, The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Owen Wilson is the latest in a long line of Woody surrogates (since the filmmaker has backed away from starring in his own movies) and not only fills the part quite well but manages to make it his own. He and his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) have traveled to Paris where, inspired by the echoes of great writers and artists who gathered there in the 1920s, he hopes to put in some serious time working on a novel. Instead, he is magically transported back to that time and encounters a dizzying array of famous figures. The more involved he becomes in that world, the less he is able to —

—relate to what’s going on in his present-day life.

It would be a crime to reveal any more; the film should properly unfold as a series of surprises.

Midnight in Paris requires the viewer to accept its fantastic premise without question. It also demands that you take the set-up at face value, even though future husband and wife Wilson and McAdams don’t seem to be on the same wavelength. In other words, this is not a film that will stand up to intense scrutiny. You must be willing to go along on Wilson’s wistful, imaginary journey, or you shouldn’t set foot in the theater.

Allen’s films aren’t noted for their beauty, but this one is an exception. Cinematographer Darius Khondji, who worked with the filmmaker once before (on his unfortunate misfire Anything Else), has shot an idealized Paris, especially at night, that makes you want to book airline tickets tomorrow morning. He bathes the time-warp scenes in a warm glow that’s equally appealing.

The soundtrack is filled with Allen favorites like Bechet (in real life an American ex-pat who was lionized in Paris) playing “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere,” along with vintage Cole Porter songs and such evocative tunes as “Parlez-moi D’Amour,” played on—what else?—an accordion.

Working, as usual, with casting veteran Juliet Taylor (in collaboration with Patricia DiCerto and Stéphanie Foenkinos), Allen has found the ideal actor for each and every role, including Michael Sheen, a luminous Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller, as McAdams’ wealthy (and stodgy) parents who have little use for their prospective son-in-law, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali, and even the First Lady of France, Carla Bruni, as a sympathetic interpreter.

Midnight in Paris isn’t just a love letter to the City of Light and its mystique; it’s a paean to dreamers and romantics, however illogical they may be. We don’t see many films like that nowadays, which makes this one stand out all the more. I loved it.

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5 Comments

  • Patrick M. Gouin | September 5, 2011 1:23 AMReply

    Not a great W. Allen movie but a very good one. All the more remarkable, when you take in account that this man has churned out a movie a year for the last 40 years. Woody shows us his deep affection for Paris by portraying her in all her glory. Past and present. He evens gives us a glimpse of his screwball comedies of his early years: «…off with his head! ». A beautiful fantasy and totally enjoyable movie. 7/10

  • Roger Green | July 13, 2011 11:08 AMReply

    Saw this movie last night. I loved early woody, but have been disappointed much of the time in recent years. Midnight in Paris, tho, was not only delightful, it was thought-provoking.

  • Pete Emslie | June 21, 2011 8:18 AMReply

    I'm so happy to hear that you also loved "Midnight in Paris", Leonard. I'm a tough critic when it comes to most contemporary films, but Woody is still usually able to charm me. Even though the ultimate message of the film takes a pragmatic stand against seeing the past through rose coloured glasses, I still believe that, even if the world may be better overall today than it was back then, entertainment was far better in decades past.

    Whether it be movies, TV, music, or in the case of the Owen Wilson character, literature, I maintain that there were far more treasures back then than now. It all boils down to style, really, as I just far prefer the mindset of the creative talent at work in the 30's through 60's than those working in the entertainment industry today. It's the craftsmanship I relate to, in terms of music, colour, lighting, and approach to acting and dialogue. Most movies today I can't stand for the huge difference in all of the contributing factors I just listed. At least Woody still knows how to appeal to the eyes and ears of his devotees.

  • Tom | May 20, 2011 9:13 AMReply

    I also disagreed with the BOMB rating you assigned Anything Else. Like Quenton Tarantino it was one of my favorite films. I know I sure will go out of my way to see this one.

  • Jim Reinecke | May 20, 2011 5:13 AMReply

    As a confirmed Woodyphile, this one is on the top of my must-see list this summer. Certainly it will be a welcome warm-weather alternative to the brain-rotting tripe that mainstream Hollywood flushes (and I DO mean flushes) into theatres every summer. However, Leonard, I do wish to debate a small point with you. You say that "Allen's films aren't noted for their beauty" but have your forgotten the gorgeous B&W work of Gordon Willis on "Manhattan"? And there are some wonderful images in "Everyone Says I Love You" and "Hannah and Her Sisters" as well. But this is a small quibble. (However, I really don't think that "Anything Else" is quite as bad as you do. . .I would certainly prefer it to "Sweet and Lowdown" or "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion"!) I'm definitely ready to see this one!

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