Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reel Thoughts: The Last Time I Saw Paris

Who would have guessed that Woody Allen’s 41st film, starring Owen Wilson of all people, would be one of the best pictures of the year? After the nightmarishly shrill You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, in which all of the ingredients (acting, story and direction) were curdled, Midnight in Paris is a fine, light French soufflé that harkens back to my favorite Woody Allen masterworks, such as Manhattan, Bullets Over Broadway and The Purple Rose of Cairo. It is the story of a nostalgic screenwriter who escapes from his Hollywood hack life into the golden age of Paris in the 20’s via a magical midnight limousine ride.

Like a Twilight Zone episode written by an English Lit major, Midnight in Paris is a wonderful fantasy filled with characters like Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gil (Wilson) is thrilled to find himself among his literary heroes, as well as rubbing elbows with Picasso, Dalí, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker and director Luis Buñuel, all played by wonderful actors like Kathy Bates, Allison Pill and Adrian Brody.

Creatively stifled by his money-and-status-conscious wife, Inez (Rachel McAdams, in the film’s one bad, thankless role), Gil comes alive with his 20’s cohorts, and falls in love with Adriana (a luminous Marion Cotillard), an art muse already linked to Picasso and Modigliani. Is it cheating if it’s in an alternate reality? There is no explanation for how or why Gil keeps finding his way back to the 20’s, nor does there need to be. Wilson does a great job as Allen’s stand-in, and his innocent love of the period will draw in viewers, even if they (like me) have no idea who Djuna Barnes was!

As with most time travel tales, there comes the time where the hero must decide in which world he wants to live, and I am not completely satisfied with Gil’s choice. It almost feels as if Allen realized that he had to tie things up in a hurry... although, given his perfectionism, that seems unlikely. At least in the similarly-themed Night Gallery episode, “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar,” a wrecking ball ended the story with a bang. Then again, with wonderful performances like Bates’ Stein, Pill’s flighty Zelda and Corey Stoll’s manly Hemingway, maybe I just didn’t want Midnight in Paris to end.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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