Entering the Twilight Zone
I have to confess I've only picked up on Woody Allen's work faithfully from Match Point onwards, just about the time he was getting out of his New York comfort zone and putting his stories into his European sojourn, except that distributors here didn't quite buy into meeting a tall dark stranger. But no fret since Midnight in Paris captures everything superficially wonderful about the city of lights, in an opening montage that brings us to almost every piece of tourist attraction on offer, before deep diving into one of the best Woody Allen offerings in recent years.
It's a romantic comedy of sorts, the kind that Allen excels in creating, and we join the couple Inez (Rachel McAdams) and Gil played by Owen WIlson, the latter whose writer character would have been played by Wooden Allen himself being Woody Allen in a film once upon a time, talky and full of wit. In Paris on the graces of Inez's parents John (Kurt Fuller) and Helen (Mimi Kennedy), what would have been an awesome period of time spent in the romantic city was quickly ruined by the arrival of Inez's friends Paul (Michael Sheen) and Carol (Nina Arianda), especially since it's so obvious that Inez holds a candle to Paul's intellect, at the expense of almost always putting down Gil, who feels threatened by the presence of another man in her life, one who seem to be able to capture the imagination and attention of his girlfriend.
Departing from the group who decided to go dancing, Gil's drunken trek around the streets of Paris at night inexplicably led him to the 20s, where he encounters many literary and artistic greats, such as F Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and in multiple midnight strolls waiting for that antiqued car to come pick him up, other personalities which give rise to plenty of casting cameos, such as Josephine Baker (Sonia Rolland), Juan Belmonte (Daniel Lundh), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) whom he had read his draft manuscript for his next novel, Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) and his muse of the moment, the lovely Adriana (Marion Cotillard), with whom Gil forms a strong bond with, and in a way puts him off course from his own girlfriend.
It's quite clear that this is a tale about chances, and of people who don't know they are currently unhappy with their love lives, and are seeking an outlet of some sorts for emotional release. It's about people who subconsciously can't stand their present and want to escape from it, and what more than to enter a period of nostalgia, and fantasize about being one amongst our idols and heroes. In this case, cracks between Gil and Inez are quite pronounced, with the mounting tension and suspicion brought on by the presence of Paul, especially when comparisons begin and the crystal clarity in their differences in temperament and character, which if not for Gil's success in his career raking both fame and fortune, would have been doomed from the start, if it ever took off in the first place. Gil enters this zone of bliss to be amongst those he aspires to be one day. And with Adriana, a romantic rendezvous each night proves to be quite a pull factor.
Owen Wilson becomes almost like a Woody Allen avatar in the way his mannerisms in the film pick up from the usual characters that Allen plays, while yet possessing enough of the Wilson persona's cheekiness, especially in the final third of the film where he discovers Adriana's journal in the present day, and looked for clues as to how a potential relationship between him and her could have developed. Marion Cottilard of course scores as the damsel who's tired of the kind of treatment from men like Picasso and even Hemingway, and like Paul, epitomizes that similar down and out feeling that creates similar zones into which to escape to, bringing together some fantastic, science fiction like moments in this story that will thrill any writer or avid reader when the ensemble cast take on roles of famous people from the past.
Allen's truly back to form here with a story that's brilliantly written, with fine dialogue and structure, and bringing out the best of mimicry from his cast of many, starting from having Owen Wilson talk and walk very much like his persona, if not himself, being the central mouthpiece in this film. And look out for Carla Bruni too in quite a major supporting role as the Museum Guide to whom Gil goes to for a little help with some French translation. Highly recommended!