May 21, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Worth A Ticket; A tasty croissant from Woody Allen.
Woody Allen interrupts the opening credits of his new comedy MIDNIGHT IN PARIS to insert a montage of lovely Paris locations.  I mention this because after more than 40 years and as many films, the rules of Woody-land seem as fixed and immutable as the laws of physics, starting with his white-on-black credits.  This time, though, Allen has relaxed his grip, turned on the charm, and the result is something we haven’t seen from him in a remarkably long time: a genuine comedy.  You can’t really call it counter-programming to Pirates of the Caribbean 4 when one is in 4000+ theatres and the other is in 6, but for those lucky enough to live in one of the cities where it’s playing, there’s no comparison.

For fans of Woody Allen, it’s almost impossible to view any new film he directs without immediately assigning it a place in his repertory.  So to answer the immediate questions:  no, Midnight In Paris isn’t a return to the glory days of his astounding string of masterworks that ran, more or less, from Sleeper in 1973 through Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1989 .  (It wasn’t an unbroken string–personally I’m a fan of Interiors and Stardust Memories, can’t really defend A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy or September–but still.)  It’s not quite as great as his finest recent film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  But you’d have to go back to Small Time Crooks in 2000, maybe even Bullets Over Broadway in 1994, to find a more more sheerly enjoyable work by the master.
The problem with saying much about Midnight is that it’s the first Allen film since, maybe, ever, that could use a spoiler alert–the movie’s twist is its entire plot.  So stop reading after this paragraph if you don’t want to know more than the basic premise, which is that Gil (Owen Wilson), a disaffected screenwriter working on a novel, has come with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) for a trip to Paris, where Gil indulges his passion for the history of the city (specifically the 1920s generation of Hemingway and Fitzgerald). while Inez shops with her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) and makes the acquaintance again of her old professor Paul (Michael Sheen).   Gil starts to wander the city at night, and…  
Here’s the Spoiler Alert:  read on at your own risk.
At midnight, an antique auto pulls up where Gil is standing, and he’s invited for a ride.  The passengers, it turns out, are none other than F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.  Somehow, he’s been transported to the days of The Lost Generation.  The Fitzgeralds bring Gil to a party, and soon he’s hob-nobbing with the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, Gertrude Stein and Salvador Dali.  Gil is intoxicated by life among the artists he’s always revered, and soon enough he meets the lovely Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a designer and muse to many of the local geniuses.  He’s smitten by her, and her period of life, and he finds himself needing to decide how–and when–he wants to live.
These themes aren’t new to Allen:  just listen to the soundtrack to any of his films and you know his own affinity with the jazz era.  One of his most celebrated short stories is “The Kugelmass Episode,” in which a modern-day professor finds himself in the world of “Madame Bovary,” and any list of his greatest films would have to include The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which Mia Farrow’s miserable housewife gets to interact with the movie characters she loves.  Midnight doesn’t cut nearly as deep as Cairo–Gil’s conflicts are relatively minor, and his “real” world exists in Allen’s default, somewhat lazy millieu of well-off, erudite cardboard–and that makes it clearly the lesser film.  
Nevertheless, the movie gives great pleasure.  Owen Wilson is, somewhat surprisingly, the most engaging hero Allen’s had in a long time, not only speaking the tricky dialogue without falling into Allen-imitation, but bringing heart to the role.  McAdams has the unenviable duty of playing the superficial, insensitive fiancee, but she underplays the bitchiness enough so at least you can believe she and Wilson as a couple.  It would have been nice if Cotillard’s character had been written as more nuanced; nonetheless, she provides the dream-girl beauty the part requires.  Adrien Brody, as one of the 1920s celebrities, comes as close as anyone could to stealing the movie in just one scene, and Allison Pill and Kathy Bates are also marvelous as people of the time, as is Lea Seydoux as a sympathetic salesgirl Gil meets in the present.  Cinematographer Darius Khondji, encouraged to make Paris look as gorgeous as possible, has given Allen spectacular visuals, and Alisa Lepselter’s editing keeps the movie moving smoothly.
Midnight In Paris touches on some heavy themes, like living in the present and (as ever with Allen) the use of art to hold back the uncertainty of a chaotic universe, but oh so gently.  It seems the movie, and its maker, mostly wanted to give us all a lovely holiday in a glamorous place, and that’s what he’s delivered.

(MIDNIGHT IN PARIS – Sony Pictures Classics – PG 13 – 94 minutes – Director/Script:  Woody Allen – Cast:  Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Tom Hilddleston, Allison Pill, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody – 6 Theatres)

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."