(Sony Pictures Classics) There are few things in life we can count on… Thankfully, a Woody Allen film every year or so is one of them. A fan since childhood (yeah, I was the oddball who went to the mall to go see Love and Death while my friends were lining up for Jaws), for me, there is nothing like sitting in a darkened theater to watch the simple white-on-black credits (in alphabetical order) roll by with some old jazz tune playing in the background. What neurotic tale usually involving infidelity does Woody have in store for us tonight?
With such cinematic masterpieces -- like Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, as well as my personal favorite, Bullets Over Broadway -- behind him, it's inevitable the perennial writer-director would toss out a few misses over his almost half-century of movie-making. But even bad Woody is still Woody. You can always find at least an element or two in almost everything he's done that works. A nobility even in failure.
Walking into the screening of his latest film, Midnight in Paris, critics were given virtually no information about the film other than it stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and Michael Sheen. No clever tag lines, no hints of whether the plot was pure comedy or contained elements of murder or mayhem, or a one-sheet that could tell the story and spill the beans.
No, aside from the stars and the city of Paris, we were all going in blind…for good reason. That's exactly what the writer-director intended. Suffice it to say, if you're expecting any spoilers in this review, this Woody fan would consider it sacrilege. It would be robbing you of the pure experience. Like everything Woody, the film speaks for itself. What I will say is: you're in for treat.
Containing elements of fantasy, Midnight in Paris is reminiscent of The Purple Rose of Cairo the same way Match Point contained elements of Crimes and Misdemeanors. Owen Wilson plays Gil, a semi-successful Hollywood screenwriter who has aspirations to be a novelist like his literary heroes, Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
On holiday in Paris with his fiancee Inez (McAdams) and her well-to-do future in-laws, Gil finds himself falling in love with the notion of living in the romantic City of Lights -- a place where such luminaries as Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso found inspiration.
While rewriting his novel, Gil begins to reexamine his life as well as his impending nuptials to Inez. Factoring into the mix is a pontificating blowhard by the name of Paul (Sheen), who Gil finds "pedantic" (a word which has found an integral part of the Woody lexicon, along with erudite and didactic).
It's abundantly obvious, from the start of the film, that Gil represents an offshoot of the classic Woody Allen persona, and surprisingly, Wilson, for all his Texas naiveté and charm, fills it well. Although he may not have the ability to act quite as neurotic, watching him stutter and stammer his way through situations so painfully awkward will immediately give you a whole new respect for his amiable lackadaisical acting style.
Despite strong performances by the entire cast -- including McAdams, Sheen, Kathy Bates, Kurt Fuller, Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston, Marion Cotillard, as well as a scene-stealing cameo by Adrien Brody -- make no mistake, this is Wilson's picture all the way. He embodies the role of Gil with a sense of innocence and infectious wonderment -- two qualities which don't quickly come to mind when describing a character of a Woody Allen alter ego.
Filmed at some of Paris's most beautiful locations, including the grounds and Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, Monet's Gardens a Giverny, Rue Montagne St. Genevieve, and Notre Dame Garden Square just to name a few, Midnight in Paris will undoubtedly have you yearning for a trip abroad.
After first sticking his cinematic toe in the Parisian waters with Everybody Says I Love You, it's obvious Woody has found himself his new Manhattan. A visual delight from start to finish, Midnight in Paris represents one of Woody's finest films in recent memory, proving the 76-year-old director has plenty left to tell and, thankfully, showing no signs of slowing down. And this is one fan who couldn't be happier.