'Midnight in Paris' (dir: Woody Allen, 2011) Cert: 12A
For those who do not already know, Woody Allen is one's favourite filmmaker of all-time and with each new release every year I cannot help but become filled with excitement and wonder. As a fan of the much-panned 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' last year, I become infinitely more anxious for the release of 'Midnight in Paris' when it was selected to open this year's Festival de Cannes and since then has had universal praise as well as being Allen's highest grossing film ever making a staggering $107,100,000 in the USA alone, so my expectations were extremely high upon entering the picture, but did it deliver?
Gil (Owen Wilson) travels with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) to Paris where her family is out on business. Gil is a successful but unhappy Hollywood screenwriter who wants to trade heartless scripts for rich and intelligent novels and he hopes the French capital can inspire his new line of work. After a long and tiring day spent with Inez's pretentious friends Paul (Michael Sheen) and Carol (Nina Arianda), Gil decides to leave the group for the night and stroll the beautiful Parisian streets after dark. As the clock strikes midnight, everything around him changes as he is whisked off in a strange car and begins a second life in a different reality and timeline - 1920s Paris; the golden age of art, literature and culture.
For those familiar with Allen's work, his latest offering will beckon sweet memories of his masterful 'The Purple Rose of Cairo' (1985) with it's crossing narrative paths between reality and fantasy but thankfully the similarity does not feel cheap or overused but rather fresh, contemporary and extremely original, and the primary reason behind this is because Allen has managed to make that perfectly balanced film that reaches out and touches fans whilst embracing new audiences. This is his most 'mainstream' entry to date as well as being the typical Woody many adore so greatly.
'Midnight in Paris' pours blissfully onto the screen absorbing every inch with impeccable beauty and staggering Parisian imagery which at times feels as equal as a love letter to a tourist promotional video. Allen's European trips have been a fairly mixed bag but much like the sublime 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona', this picture understands it's audience and attracts them deeply with it's sumptuous depictions of a certain city as well as being incredibly coherent and knowledgeable. The viewer becomes immersed in the Paris setting but learns a thing or two about the 'City of Love' along the way.
|Still from 'Midnight in Paris' (dir: Woody Allen, 2011)|
But it's not just the cinematography or Allen's eye for intrinsic detail which deserves praise because the true genius behind this film lies in it's flawless script and casting. This picture sports the best original screenplay of the year so far and rightly deserves an Oscar nomination for this achievement. The dialogue is hilarious, witty and interesting as well as offering ideals about Paris and the people the city attracts. At many points the film could have fallen inside it's own humour and actually have started to feel pretentious and upper-class but thankfully Allen has his tongue pressed firmly in his cheek and pokes fun at the stereotypes surrounding art, fashion and high maintenance culture without mocking too greatly and being 'offensive'. This is best demonstrated through Michael Sheen's Paul; a typical 'know-it-all' who uses his intellectualism to attract women. During one of his showing-off moments whilst studying a Picasso painting and explaining what it signifies and presents, Gil gleefully proves him wrong; we as the audience know Gil is correct but of course the group think he is mad and just trying to annoy Paul - it's a lovely and hugely amusing moment.
Now one does not want to spoil anything about this movie but be prepared to laugh your socks off at the amount of famous faces Gil encounters and how fantastically each performer captures them. The only one I will mention is Salvador Dali played eccentrically and perfectly by Adrien Brody.
A key plot theme throughout is the idea of nostalgia and how it's comfort for those unhappy with the present; Gil believes the 1920s is the greatest time period so once he becomes transported there, he feels complete. However for those living in the 1920s, they believe the 1880s is the richest period of time and they suffer the same emotions he feels living in 2010. It's a side-splitting and true feeling that many possess and Allen's writing accentuates it with ease and effortless charm.
The performances are a knock-out with Wilson shining brighter than the stars that float peacefully above the moonlight streets of the French capital. He is playing the 'Woody Allen' character that bursts with ironic humour and feels weighted under his romantic ideals but thankfully he is not doing the 'Woody Allen' impression that so many leading men in his features have done. Gil is a rounded, immensely likeable and incredibly funny character whose passion and desire oozes from every pore as he whimsically prances through the thriving city. I've always been a big fan of Wilson even though many disagree but I believe all audiences will become wrapped up in him as well as his new-found world.
McAdams is also great as the rather uninterested and selfish Inez who blurts out feisty one-liners and makes her presence known. McAdams is a fine actress and this performance can be added to her giant bill of hits. Marion Cotillard is sensational as Adriana; the mystery woman who Gil becomes entranced by when he spends time in the past. She is the former lover of Picasso and she now has her heart set on a humble Hollywood screenwriter. Cotillard's irrevocable beauty aids her heart-warming and satisfying performance making her one of the year's most intriguing character creations and as previously mentioned, Sheen is wonderful as the annoying and self-obsessed Paul. Kathy Bates, Kurt Fuller, Carla Bruni and many more also feature and all feel right at home in Allen's idea of Paris.
This is without question the most joyous, feel-good and heart-felt picture I have seen this year and it's certainly amongst 2011's best cinematic offerings. Fans of Allen, newcomers and those who have just popped to the cinema on a Friday night will feel nothing but happiness and wonder as you sit through a 94 minute journey of expression, hilarity and that good old Woody magic.
Undoubtedly, unquestionably and unequivocally brilliant - 'Midnight in Paris' is simply classic Allen.
By Chris Haydon