Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) in Midnight in Paris.
Filming Midnight in Paris was probably the most fun Woody Allen's ever had. His joy is evident from the moment the film begins to the moment it ends, and the film is so quintessentially him that I can't believe it took this long for him to make it. He's clearly been inspired by the City of Lights, and it's not hard to see why. Just as Manhattan was a love letter to the titular New York borough, Midnight in Paris is as picturesque as a postcard, and every line of dialogue drips with enthusiasm toward the beautiful French city. But what of the story? Well, it's more fun than anything this year, but best left a mystery. Allen detractors might find something to dismiss, but his fans—like me—will rejoice, for Woody is back, and honestly, he's as good as ever.
Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a successful Hollywood writer who's sick of churning out hack screenplays, so he tries his hand at a novel. Struggling to find inspiration, he travels with his fiance, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her family to Paris. There, his worst nightmare comes true. He's forced to spend the trip in the company of Paul (Michael Sheen), a "pedantic psuedo-intellectual" who seems to have an opinion about anything and everything. Gil is in hell. He can't take these people and their nonsense. He just wants to escape and enjoy the quaint Paris of old, where his favorite artists, such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, Picasso, and Bunuel, dwelled and created some of mankind's most treasured works of art. So one night, he jaunts off on his own, only to find himself lost. But it ends up being the best night of his life, and it's during these now nightly adventures that he finds the inspiration he was searching for, only its from some very surprising and unusual sources.
No further synopsis is necessary; the trailers were purposefully opaque because the film's chief pleasure is discovering the weird and wild world that is Paris after midnight. All I'm going to say is that the film takes a positively delightful turn every time the clock strikes midnight. Part of that fun is seeing the joy on Gil's face as he uncovers some of the city's stranger secrets. Another part relates to Adrianna (Marion Cotillard), an aspiring fashion designer who captures Gil's heart, as well as the hearts of some of Paris' most eligible—and brilliant—bachelors. The subtle romance between Gil and Adrianna is lovely and very reminiscent of some of Allen's best movie couples.
Owen Wilson plays Gil (who would have been played by Allen himself had the film been made 20 years ago) excellently. He's got all the characteristics of a typical Allen male lead—neurotic and pessimistic, yet incredibly idealistic and a romantic at heart. He's a character we've seen before, but some combination of Wilson and Paris has led to a rejuvination of the archetype. Cotillard gives the film's other great performance, though that shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone. She's been so good in recent years—from her Oscar-winning work in La Vie en Rose to her brilliant supporting turn in last year's Inception—and she's exceptional once again. The role of Adrianna isn't her most challenging, but when it comes to pure charm and acting alluring, Cotillard can't be beat.
If I had one small complaint about the film it's that Inez, as well as her parents and friends, are one-dimensional and total shrews. It's something that's common among Allen's most recent films, and though I rarely condone sacrificing character to advance plot, I think it's somewhat acceptable here. The film is pure fantasy, so you never really take it too seriously. And had we felt bad for a scorned Inez, some of the film's fun would have been missing. Still, I wish there had been another way than to just make her seem insufferable, and because Allen doesn't take that route, the film loses a couple points.
But make no mistake, this is top-tier Woody Allen. Personally, none of his films will ever top Crimes and Misdemeanors, but as far as his comedic efforts go, this up is right up there with Annie Hall and Zelig, among others. In many ways, I think Midnight in Paris is actually a perfect summer movie. Sure, it doesn't have huge stars or superheroes, but it's light and breezy, and it manages to strike the perfect balance between whimsical comedy and tender romance—not to mention that it's shot and scored with magnificent care and attention to detail. Even if you don't care for Allen and his pictures, I implore you to give this one a shot. It's beautiful on so many levels, it's a ton of fun, and it represents a master on top of his game once again. How could you ask for anything more?