Film Review by Marc Glassman
Woody Allen, director and writer.
Starring: Owen Wilson (Gil Pender), Rachel McAdams (Inez), Marion Cotillard (Adrianna), Michael Sheen (Paul Bates), Kathy Bates (Gertrude Stein), Corey Stall (Ernest Hemingway), Adrien Brody (Salvador Dali), Gad Elmaleh (Detective Tisserant), Tom Hiddleston (Scott Fitzgerald), Alison Pill (Zelda Fitzgerald), Adrien de Van (Luis Bunuel), Marcial Di Fonzo Bo (Pablo Picasso)
Woody Allen is a unique figure in contemporary American cinema. Few artists are as revered and reviled as the aging New York comic-philosopher. Though the scandal around his relationship with the much younger Soon-Yi Previn (the adopted daughter of his then paramour Mia Farrow) is now almost twenty years old, it’s fair to say that he’s never recovered from the criticism and abuse he received at that time. While he’s had a handful of successes since then–Bullets Over Broadway, Match Point, Sweet and Lowdown and Vicky, Cristina, Barcleona come to mind–the vitriol displayed by some critics towards lesser films he’s directed seem to have a personal agenda attached to them.
So it’s great to see Allen score a huge art house hit with Midnight in Paris. The opening night film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, it’s already attracted critical plaudits on both sides of the Atlantic. No doubt the Toronto reception will echo the transcontinental huzzahs.
Though Allen is an artistic triple threat–an award-winning actor, director and writer–it’s his talent as a fabricator of tales that is really being lauded in the new film.
In fact, his best films don’t even feature him anymore. At 75, and with his reputation pursuing him, even Allen knows that he can no longer be a leading man. So he’s spent the past few years testing out others–Larry David (disastrously in Whatever Works), James Brolin (as a failed writer in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) and Ewan McGregor (guilty but with less Allenesque wit in Cassandra’s Dream).
Owen Wilson turns out to be the correct choice–he’s a charming, WASP version of Allen’s neurotic, self-obsessed romantic. You can imagine the sad sack but attractive Wilson appealing to women as diverse (and in their own ways, just as self-obsessed) as Marion Cotillard’s beautiful dreamer and Rachel McAdams far more Material Girl.
Wilson always operates on two levels–his humour arises from an almost innate inability to resolve very heady ambitions with the reality he’s confronting. In Wedding Crashers, which also paired Wilson and McAdams, he has to put aside his “bromance” with Vince Vaughn and shelve his frat boy pranks to finally achieve an adult relationship.
In Midnight in Paris, he’s the typical Allen failed hero: a well-off Hollywood scriptwriter dogged by an inability to write the Great American Novel. A failure, but a rich and charismatic one.
Having chosen his lead well, Allen places him in a memorable tale. As most people will know by now, Wilson’s character, Gil Pender, is so fixated on Paris in the ’20s that it seems inevitable that he finds himself taking a taxi back in time, one contemporary Parisian night. There, he encounters the Fitzgeralds–Alison Pill is particularly memorable as the quirky, suicidal Zelda–Cole Porter (off screen), Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein (a very well cast Kathy Bates), Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali (a great comic turn by Adrian Brody) and Luis Bunuel (played by the spitting image of the late Spanish surrealist director).
In fact, one begins to wonder if anyone but famous expatriate artists lived in 1920s Paris, until Pender meets Adrianna (the lovely and effortlessly charming Marion Cotillard), a lover of Picasso, Hemingway and other artists (and who is a composite character based on several of the mistresses of the period.) Of course, Pender wants to be with her more than his modern-day fiancée Inez, who is less concerned with the art of Paris’ past and more interested in the jewelry and shoes available on the Champs-Elysée.
Midnight in Paris has the wit and style of a fine short story: the characters are types–memorable but not truly unusual–and the tale revolves around a series of mainly comic set-ups that eventually leads towards a satisfying romantic, and somewhat surprising denouement.
It’s not a masterpiece but Midnight in Paris is a well-written and acted film, featuring some lovely performances and great location shooting. I can only think of one person who would not be satisfied with Allen’s astonishing comeback: Mia Farrow.