Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” made its debut on Starz this past weekend.
Last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Original Screenplay, “Midnight in Paris” stars Owen Wilson as Gil Pender, a man who idealizes the Paris of the 1920s. Disenchanted with his career as a Hollywood hack, disrespected by his fiancée and lightly regarded by his future in-laws, Gil wishes he had lived amongst the great literary, artistic and culturally important figures of that time.
Little does he know… something extraordinary is in store for him.
While vacationing in France with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams), Gil Pender finds himself tiring of her tourist agenda and her know-it-all friends. He longs to stroll the Parisian streets and admire the city. She prefers to hit tourist sites and clubs. Her parents don’t seem to connect with him well, either, and her friends are borderline obnoxious.
He longs to admire the beauty of the city, and spend his time longingly envisioning the bygone era of the 1920s. Unfortunately, he can’t get any of the people close to him interested.
So, Gil wanders the city at night, alone.
And at the stroke of midnight, something magical happens. While resting for a moment on some steps, an antique automobile pulls up and the passengers offer him a lift. Intrigued, Gil accepts… and finds himself transported back in time. It’s a conceit that would derail a lesser movie. If not pulled off with such a deft hand, ”time travel” in a non sci-fi context could easily lose the viewer. Allen, however, plays everything perfectly and creates a fanciful, humorous atmosphere.
While back in the Paris of the ’20s, Gil rubs elbows with some of the most famous figures in literature and art. All of the luminaries of the “Lost Generation”, plus a few others to boot. Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, Salvador Dalí, Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso. Others as well. Gil meets up with a virtual parade of historical figures, each funnier than the next, all idiosyncratic and unique. The actors and actresses given the roles of the 1920s luminaries are all exceptional. Kathy Bates makes a tough den mother out of Gertrude Stein. Corey Stoll is hilarious as the over-tough Hemingway, and Alison Pill is great as the manic Zelda Fitzgerald. Gil’s love interests are also enchanting – especially Marion Cotillard.
But it’s Gil’s earnestness and enthusiasm that sell the story here. Owen Wilson is fantastic, and a perfect mouthpiece for Woody Allen. He’s sincere as a boy scout and drinks in the wonder and awe of what’s happening as if he were at a magic show. He feels completely natural speaking Allen’s dialogue… they’re an exceptional pairing.
Of course, Gil is a man who doesn’t belong in the 20s. So he has choices to make. About his career, about his relationship with his fiancée, about whether or not he wishes to continue to live in two worlds… Which could make for a heavy film, but not here. From the music, to the characters, to the setting, to the romance – “Midnight in Paris” is a lighthearted, whimsical, fun film that is sure to entertain. It’s enchanting. It’s never melancholy, even though it could have been. It’s just sweet and easy-going. I found it totally enjoyable.
In addition to Best Screenplay, “Midnight in Paris” was also nominated for three other Academy Awards – Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Art Direction. It’s gotten tremendous critical acclaim, and virtually everything I’ve read is supportive of it. It’s highly recommended if you havent seen it. And if you have seen it, you probably don’t need me to convince you to see it again!