Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” is his strongest film in years

Director Woody Allen’s filmography has been all over the place in recent years with more misses than hits, but he makes his first best film of this decade with Midnight in Paris.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood screenwriter who is vacationing in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams). When Inez prefers to see the sights of Paris with her old friend Paul (Michael Sheen), Gil is left to wander the streets of Paris alone. When he is invited into a vintage car by strangers, he finds himself transported to 1920s Paris where he gets to meet and interact with the literary and artistic geniuses that has inspired him. Gil also finds himself falling head-over-heels in love with “artist groupie” Adrianna (Marion Cotillard).

Paris is the next stop in Woody Allen’s filmmaking tour of European cities after recently shooting films in London (Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream) and in Barcelona (Vicky Cristina Barcelona). Paris is a beautiful sight to see on film and it shows in the five-minute tour of Paris’ most scenic locales that opens Midnight in Paris thanks to cinematographer Darius Khondji.

Allen really explores some deep and thoughtful themes in this film, such as the themes of wanting to live in the past rather than the present and recognizing that nostalgia is an act of denial. The explanation on how Gil’s journey in time is possible is never recognized fully in the movie (except maybe for some hints that Gil might have a “mental illness”), but it should not warrant any explanation because it would ruin the mystery Allen has created.

Allen’s script, along with the movie itself, shines whenever Gil finds himself transported to Paris in the ‘20s. The modern day scenes get a little boring and clunky at times, but there is one stand-out moment that is hilarious in which Gil schools Paul with an explanation on one of Picasso’s painting in which he gives great details about the subject of the painting. A facet of Allen’s filmmaking in this film that was problematic was the score for the movie. Allen’s score for Midnight in Paris gets a little too repetitive as the some of the same music is played one too many times.

Owen Wilson does a wonderful job playing Allen’s Everyman, allowing Wilson to showcase his talents that have only been seen in Wes Anderson films. Michael Sheen’s role as a fake intellectual is the best part during the modern day scenes where it seems that he is faking his knowledge of Paris and he is not afraid to tell the museum guide (played by France’s First Lady Carla Bruni) that she is wrong.

The historical figures that are portrayed in Midnight in Paris are perfectly embodied by the talented actors who play them. Cory Stroll as a charismatic Ernest Hemmingway has such a great screen presence that his performance warrants a film of his own about Hemmingway. Along with Stroll, Adrian Brody is funny as Salvadore Dali who has an obsession for rhinoceros and Kathy Bates is pitch-perfect as Gertrude Stein. However, the monkey wrench that prevents this ensemble cast from being perfect is Rachel McAdams’ weak and two-dimensional performance as the shrewish Inez whose sole purpose in this film is to whine and complain to Gil.

Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s strongest film in years with a good ensemble that compliments perfectly with his funny and thoughtful script.

Midnight in Paris: 4 stars out of 5

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