Review: Midnight in Paris

Here is a wonderful guilty pleasure for you: Woody Allen’s latest love letter to a beloved city. This time, it isn’t Manhattan, but Paris, and although this isn’t anywhere near the calibre of his earlier films (it is generally agreed that Allen is a director way past his heyday), it is still a lovely, warm, harmless piece of filmmaking.

For all the ways that we can find to shout Woody Allen down, one thing he absolutely excels at (now as ever) is filming a city. Paris has never looked more gorgeous – to look at some of the shots that open the film is to swoon headlong, cementing the French capital in our minds as the city of love.

Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, is a writer who, like many literary types before him, has fallen head over heels for the city. He is a hopeless romantic, and instantly adorable. He wants to take midnight strolls and walk in the rain – fascinated by the literary allure of Paris and the 1920s in particular. Unfortunately, his fiancée – Rachel McAdams – is slightly less impressed, and perfectly vexed when he starts to suggest moving there. Her parents – snotty, uptight individuals – hate his guts. Cue some mildly funny dinner exchanges.

Three things make this film special and memorable. One is the fantasy element – I won’t divulge too much, but suffice it to say that some degree of cultural knowledge will help immensely. Being a bookworm and a film buff, I loved Allen’s exploration of the literary figureheads of yesteryear. Discussions that Gil has with a man called Dali and a man called Bunuel (get the hint?) are incredibly amusing, as is a short, witty scene involving a private detective and the Palace of Versailles.

The second is the stellar cast – showcasing British talent (Michael Sheen crops up as a pedantic wannabe scholar, friend of Gil’s fiancée), American stars (Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody in cameos both make an impression) and the ever brilliant Marion Cotillard, Allen has created an immensely watchable ensemble piece.

The third, as previously hinted at, is the cinematography: ‘Midnight In Paris’ is simply gorgeous to look at, particularly as we are shown Paris in three different time periods. The film oozes style and opulence, and works well as a laid back fantasy rom-com. You have to hand it to Allen – he still has imagination.

This isn’t a masterpiece. Some will inevitably find it mediocre, or even boring. I have to say that it is utterly predictable and saccharine sweet; however, it never strays into the realm of the melodramatic, and Allen’s imaginative style is utterly captivating and somewhat endearing in its innocent reverence for his beloved city. For everything else we can say about it, ‘Midnight In Paris’ is a charming, light, frothy piece of entertainment. Of course, it’s absolute nonsense – but that’s not always such a bad thing!

Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, James Martin (October ’11)