Movie Review: Midnight In Paris

I usually reserve my blog space for reviews on films still out in theatres, but with Oscar season (“Second Christmas”) coming up, I thought I’d put in a plug for one of my favorite movies of 2011.

“Midnight In Paris” is an impressive film that throws aside the CGI and 3-D effects and asks us to be amazed by the beauty of imagination and quiet magic.

Woody Allen, not my favorite director but definitely part of our cinematic canon, struck gold when he wrote the story of Gil (Owen Wilson), a writer unhappy with his job as a run-of-the-mill screenwriter and reluctantly engaged to a spoiled American princess, Inez (Rachel McAdams). On vacation in Paris with his fiancee and her right-wing, anti-France family, he discovers that the magic of Paris isn’t just its romantic lighting, famous artwork and great food.

Gil walks back to the hotel one night and gets invited to a party by a group of period-dressed people in a 1920s automobile. Flapper skirts and rouged knees galore, he finds himself smack-dab in the middle of a party, with F. Scott Fitzgerald introducing him to the literary icons of the day. Gil’s adventures in the 1920s continue as he encounters more and more people, and in the morning when he has to return to Inez, he is confident that the 1920s is where he belongs.

Complications ensue, of course, when he falls in love with Adrianna (Marion Cotillard), a beautiful woman he meets during his midnight journeys. Don’t think this is a rehash of “Kate and Leopold” — there are some spectacular twists that make the ending absolutely lovely and satisfying. The message of the movie isn’t that the “days of yore” is always better than the present, but that it’s fluid and changes for every generation.

Part of what enchants us while watching “Midnight in Paris” is the superb cast Allen was able to draw up. Owen Wilson is delightfully real in this movie, which I didn’t know existed without director Wes Anderson (“Royal Tanenbaums,” “The Darjeeling Limited”) being present. The least interesting actress is Rachel McAdams, who doesn’t have to stretch very far in this film, playing the grown-up version of her first major role as “Mean Girl” Regina George. Even so, she definitely makes us hate her as she continually puts down her fiancee. Even appearances from Michael Sheen and French First Lady Carla Brunni (she plays a tour guide) add to the film, even if they’re only in there for a few scenes.

The 1920s is where it gets roaring-good. Marion Cotillard, one of my favorite actress of the day, is stunning as Adrianna and has a great 1920s vibe that hums with every swish of her smock dress. Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein and a surprisingly adorable Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald top the list of great female performances, and although he was only briefly in the film, Adrian Brody as Salvadore Dali (“Dali!” he says as he rambles on about rhinoceroses) was another fantastic aspect of how beautiful 1920s Paris is in the eyes of director Woody Allen.

“Midnight in Paris” has so many other aspects to it, but all are so understated compared to the story and performances. The costuming is brilliant and nothing can compare to having Paris as the backdrop for every scene. The script captures the character of each 1920s artist, with Earnest Hemmingway speaking in long, unbreakable sentences and Salvadore Dali speaking exactly as his paintings look (bat-crap crazy). The music was simply beautiful, drawing on the speakeasy jazz of the era as well as the class and sophistication of Paris.

If there is one thing to be aware of in the film, however, it’s that Allen assumes his audience is familiar with the great 1920s artists. Those of us with  a working knowledge of America’s finest writers at that time (including Hemmingway, even though I can’t stand his work) will particularly enjoy seeing such artists come to life for Gil. Those without much of a knowledge will most likely enjoy the film, but not gasp in excitement like I did when we first see Cole Porter playing “Let’s Fall In Love” on the piano.

The verdict: “Midnight in Paris” has my vote as one of 2011’s best. Next time I’m in Paris, I’ll have to take a few late-night walks, because as Allen shows us, anything is possible.

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