Film Review: Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen&#8217;s Parisian fantasia time-travels around the City of Light with great fun and affection. It hasn&#8217;t the depth (or heart) of <i>Manhattan</i>, but it&#8217;s a delirious ride.

“I don’t know what it is about this city—I’m going to write a note to the Chamber of Commerce,” declares the lead character in Midnight in Paris, a Hollywood hack euphorically susceptible to the City of Light and all its charms.

So, obviously, is Woody Allen, who wrote and directed this valentine to Paris, which is almost on a par with Manhattan (the city and his previous cinematic love letter). This new work hasn’t the weight of its 1979 predecessor, scampering through time zones sketch-like with its feet rarely touching the cobblestones, but it’s strong and seductive cinema, and it betrays an unbridled affection for the burg.

The opening montage is a tour of the town, with Darius Khondji’s camera painting a Paris in pastels as vividly as Gordon Willis’ black-and-white guide through Manhattan. Long and lingering, the sequence wordlessly lulls you into submission.

Owen Wilson plays Gil, a successful screenwriter on R&R in France with his rich fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her insufferably unsmiling parents. The scenery gets to him very quickly, and he suddenly feels a great American-in-Paris novel coming on. Who wouldn’t in a garret apartment out of La Boheme? Needless to say, Inez is having none of this. She even outnumbers him with a pedantic pair of old friends (Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda), who throw in with them for a visit to Versailles.

It’s here that Gil feels the first pangs of being pulled out of the present and into the Golden Past. That feeling intensifies as the day drags into night and then into late night. Eventually, he dumps the trio—or they dump him—and he drunkenly heads back to the hotel, getting oh-so-lost along the way. Then, at the 12th gong of midnight, along comes a spiffy vintage roadster with a cargo of champagne-sipping strangers who beckon him aboard, and off they go into a giddy Twilight Zone.

At this critical juncture, the film heads into a minefield of Spoiler Alerts best left unidentified because of the jokey, in-the-moment surprises Allen uncorks. Actually, they are not all that surprising, coming from the imaginative mind that created The Purple Rose of Cairo, where a dashing matinee idol stepped down off the big screen and into the drab Depression-era life of an abused Jersey housewife.

Even the names of the characters Wilson encounters in his unchartered travels are subtly skewed in the production notes and the screen credits to keep secrets.

Suffice it to say, Kathy Bates brings the right measure of stolid authority to her role, Adrien Brody suggests the over-animated zaniness of his, Tom Hiddlesteon and Alison Pill bring a sensitive wistfulness to their tragic pair, and Corey Stoll gets an entirely apt Gablesque hammerlock on his gruff, blunt figure.

Marion Cotillard contributes a proper pinch of Gallic charm as an object of some amorous interest to Wilson, while France’s First Lady, Carla Bruni, has an amusing bit as a museum guide graciously holding her own against a know-it-all foreigner.

Adding much to the merriment of this stylish trek is a jaunty, engaging and not specifically acknowledged soundtrack, which is packed with primal Cole Porter.