While there will always be the odd dissenter, there's no question that Woody Allen's latest Midnight in Paris played well to audiences and press alike in Cannes. This is Woody Light, a sweet funny nostalgic romantic confection that proves a lively counterpoint to the dark and moody fare that tends to dominate the Cannes selection. (Australian newcomer Julia Leigh's brainy and formal Sleeping Beauty, starring Sucker Punch's Emily Browning as a lost soul who sells time with her sleeping body, would be one example. It proved divisive with critics and will be a marketing challenge.) And Owen Wilson and Allen turned out to be a perfect match, ably supported by Rachel McAdams as the ugly American you love to hate, Michael Sheen as a pompous blowhard, plus Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody as various denizens of the Paris Allen loves.
A sampling of Cannes reviews is below (spoiler alert: some reviews contain plot details); here's my Allen /interview.
"His new movie was an amiable amuse-bouche to begin the Cannes festival feast: sporadically entertaining, light, shallow, self-plagiarising. It's a romantic fantasy adventure…Irritated by the banality of contemporary culture, and electrified by his own idealized view of bygone bohemian Paris, Gil takes a midnight stroll, and gets picked up by mysterious revellers in a vintage automobile….These great figures from the past — Gil doesn't meet any non-legends in his time-travel — cause him to fluster and squeak with excitement, though Wilson, fundamentally laid-back as ever, doesn't give it the comedy-astonishment that Woody himself would undoubtedly have delivered."
"It's a premise that might have seemed incredibly corny, but which in Allen's deft hands becomes something magical, as sublimely enchanting as any Allen film since 1985's The Purple Rose of Cairo, where the hero of an innocuous Hollywood programmer stepped down from the screen and into the life of a Depression-era New Jersey waitress…'Nostalgia is denial,' says one character in Midnight in Paris -- a pompous intellectual hilariously played by Michael Sheen -- before going on to define a condition he terms 'Golden Age thinking' as 'a flaw in the romantic imagination of people who find it difficult to cope with the present'…There are those, surely, who would peg Allen as something of a nostalgia merchant himself,..Yet if Midnight in Paris is undeniably one of Allen's most personal films, it is also one as skeptical of 'golden age thinking' as it is susceptible to it."
"It’s the usual Allen formula: The small cast is a group of romantically confused, supremely neurotic individuals, most of whom view the bitchy male protagonist with extreme condescension…As he watches Hemingway give Fitzgerald harsh relationship advice, Wilson’s wide-eyed expression is priceless. If Allen turns movie stars into his hand puppets, at least they’re fun to watch…Both past and present Paris are wonderfully lit by cinematographer Darius Khondji…Allen acknowledges the embellishments in the first scene, with Gil acknowledging, 'There’s no city like this in the world…There never was.' Traveling to the past, Gil eventually learns that no romantic period can live up to its reputation. Still, Allen holds onto his vision of a Golden Age better than anyone else, even while readily acknowledging that it’s just a grand illusion."
"Sweet, sentimental, and vibrant, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris rightfully points out that yesterday’s frolicking bar might be today’s laundry mat … but we can always visit the good times in our memories. The same could be said of Woody Allen’s work in general — when it’s good, it’s very good indeed, which is precisely why our cultural memory holds him in such esteem … and why we choose to visit our favorite moments often and with affection."
"I've written before about the insidious nature of nostalgia. I understand it, but I also find it to be deadly and toxic to culture, and Allen uses Gil's dilemma as a way of examining why we indulge in nostalgia and what it gets us, if anything, in the end. In order to really examine it, Allen makes a whimsical leap into magical realism…I would not call this top-tier Allen, but this is a guy who has directed a whole shelf full of classics already. This is second-tier, which means it is merely charming and enjoyable and sophisticated and smart, shot with a luminous beauty by Darius Khondji, and as second-tier Allen goes, it is a lovely reminder of just how effortless he can make it all seem. It's also a gorgeous kick-off to Cannes."
"Midnight in Paris takes the binary concepts of reality versus illusion, a contrast that prevails in several Allen’s pictures, and changes into the contrast between present and past. It shows how the past, no matter how idealized and glamorized it is, can encroach in magical, transformative, and unpredictable ways into the present, altering in the process ambitions, identities, and relationships…But the movie walks a fine line between self-reflexivity and self-plaigarism, between warm nostalgia and sheer sentimentalism, between fluffiness and calculated manipulation. At the end of the viewing, I inevitably realized that Midnight in Paris”is not just a second-tier Woody Allen, but a minor work when placed in the context of his entire oeuvre."
"Like a swoony lost chapter from Paris, je t'aime agreeably extended to feature length, Midnight in Paris is so baldly smitten with its rain-slicked environs you half expect to see Paris' tourism office listed among its backers. Yet and still, there's an undeniably populist appeal, light as meringue and twice as sweet, in the pic's arm's-reach sophistication…If Midnight in Paris feels like another of Allen's one-way fantasies, it ultimately manages to get off easy thanks to Wilson's unassuming charm…In essence, the director worries about death so the rest of us don't have to, spinning such concerns in such a way that the rest of us can sleep easy -- and enjoy a laugh in the process. Comparing oneself to the titans who came before can be crippling on creativity, though Allen soldiers on, and time will no doubt prove that even these later, lighter pretty-city escapes will outlive the attempts of lesser talents."