Film Review: Midnight in Paris (2011)

Let's get this out of the way. If you, like me, are a big fan of the explosion of new literary, artistic, and musical works between WWI and WWII, you'll love Midnight in Paris. It's a Modernist's dream brought to life with wit and style. Where else are you going to see Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald (the lady and the gentleman), Dali, Picasso, and a slew of others interacting in a believable way onscreen? If this sounds great, go as soon as you can to see this film. Midnight in Paris is a sweet little romantic comedy fantasy film from writer/director Woody Allen. Gil is a modern Hollywood screenwriter trying to create his debut novel. His fiance, Inez, just wants him to focus on their wedding and get back to his successful career. The two are on vacation with Inez's parents in Paris. Gil is filled with the romantic notion of 1920s Paris, with the cafes and salons and the unending excitement of an artist's city. He's so filled with this notion that he discovers a way to travel back in time and befriend all his literary idols, but only during the night. Once he walks away from a party without anyone to guide him, he's back in 2010.

Woody Allen's screenplay is one of the most charming and uplifting I've seen since The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. The smile that formed on my lips during the opening credits--where live action postcards of Paris changed out to the beat of a mid-tempo instrumental song that oozed France--did not leave my face until I had reached my house thirty minutes from the theater. I never once doubted the conceit of the film because every character in the film acted in a believable way. Hemingway was Hemingway, with his curt prose and tendency to over-drink and fight. Zelda Fitzgerald was Zelda Fitzgerald, drinking all night long and pursuing every creative avenue she could with astonishing speed and minimal focus. And screenwriter Gil was absolutely screenwriter Gil. There was no doubt that this was a man who idolized his own projection of 1920s Paris and wanted nothing more than to capture some of that life for himself. Speaking in a purely selfish sense, I believed it because I know that's how I would react if our shared dream of time traveling to Interwar Paris was possible.

The performances in Midnight in Paris are a joy. They aren't over the top bombastic displays of acting skill; they're quiet and believable. When performances crescendo to near-histrionics, the actor has earned that decision.

Owen Wilson is almost unrecognizable as Gil. He adopts this nervous and excited demeanor that makes you want to believe he can achieve his dream life. Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald steals every scene she's in. She's believably manic. This is what a woman suffering from bipolar disorder acts like when she's at the height of a manic episode and Pill embodies it (with realistic Alabama accent) with style. Corey Stoll almost does enough to get me to like Ernest Hemingway's prose style. As it stands, his performance is engaging without distracting from the main pull of Gil's story. Kathy Bates carves a shrewd and welcoming Gertrude Stein, seamlessly transitioning from French to English without any struggle. Marion Cotillard sparkles as Picasso's muse Adriana, offering a nice foil to Rachel McAdams's uptight Inez.

Midnight in Paris is a simply shot but beautifully realized time traveling fantasy film. Everything holds together so tightly--the music and costumes especially sell the time shifts--that I would be surprised to see anyone say they truly hate this film. It might be a bit too gooey and light in tone for some people, but it's hard to ignore how well-crafted the entire feature is.

Rating: 10/10

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