Midnight in Paris opens with a camera floating through the streets of Paris. Stereotypical French music plays and even before the actors grace the screen, the film feels like it’s stuck in familiar filmmaking conventions. Then Owen Wilson enters the picture and from a few lines of dialogue it becomes obvious that Wilson is playing the “Woody Allen” character. However, the lines Wilson is given are strong and humorous, and he does an excellent job delivering them. The film quickly reveals itself as a strong addition to the enormous Allen filmography, and as the film gets increasingly surreal, it gets increasingly enjoyable.

Gil Pender (Wilson) and his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams) travel to Paris with Inez’s parents. Gil fantasizes about actually living in Paris, but Inez fails to take Gil’s musings seriously. Gil is a successful screenwriter but wants to make the difficult transition to novels. Inez also dismisses this ambition as a sort of pipe dream. When Inez chooses to go dancing with some friends instead of back to the hotel, Gil wanders the Parisian streets alone. A mysterious car picks him up, and he soon finds himself partying with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Unable to accept this time warp at first, Gil soon accepts it and returns to the same spot every night to experience 1920s Paris, a time he sees as a sort of “golden age.”

The basic premise of the film seems silly, a man obsessed with the past simultaneously lives in past and present day Paris. But a lot of care is put into creating the world of the past. Gil’s character contains just enough confusion and excitement for his time travel that it soon becomes easy to accept within the film. The past provides plenty of humorous encounters with many famous artists from Ernest Hemingway to Salvador Dali. The humor between the two worlds peaks as Gil explains his confusing predicament to several surrealists and they understand his situation without even having to think about it.

The artists from the past often feel like caricatures, their typical characteristics being the main ones explored in the film, such as Hemingway’s persona as a tough guy. However, the world created is enjoyable, and these characters serve their purpose to enhance Gil’s character and eventually bring about his change. The movie isn’t about these past artists, so wasting too much time on their development would have probably been counterproductive to the plot anyway. In fact, the person from the past given the most development is the fictional Adriana, a woman who becomes a romantic interest for Gil.

The film’s logistics concerning time travel are never explained, but this doesn’t really matter. Paris is a comedy and going along with the change in time is an easy thing to grasp. It even allows a few jokes that would cause an eruption in the time space continuum if Allen was actually concerned with the specifics of time travel. One such joke involves Gil telling Luis Bunuel the plot of one of his films which wouldn’t come out until some fifty years later. Allen’s treatment of time is playful, and it works with the surreal nature of the film.

Above everything else, the time travel works because it allows Gil’s character to explore the film’s main theme. Gil’s character is the type of person who feels like he should have been born in another time. By traveling to the past, he is able to live out his fantasy of being in another time, while simultaneously making sense of his troubled life in the present. Allen wonderfully weaves this serious theme through the often humorous happenings in both the past and present. For fans of Allen, it seems Midnight in Paris would be impossible not to like. Allen definitely isn’t for everyone, but here he proves that he still has a place in modern cinema. Midnight in Paris is one of the strongest comedies of the year.

1 Comments

  • Sydney Ramsden
    Sydney Ramsden on

    I agree, this is definitely one of Allen's strongest works, and is also a throwback to comedy classics such as Annie Hall, among others. I found the film to be a breath of fresh air given the onslaught of action-packed comic book films this summer.

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