2011 has been a great year for cinema so far in terms of producing quality films and a full range of emotional responses in this film geek. I've LOL'd (Bridesmaids), I've been brought to tears for the first time (Warrior), been shellshocked (Kill List, The Skin I Live In) and now Midnight In Paris has the honour of being the first film this year to leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
Woody Allen is one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time. He produces a film every film - take that Terrence Malick - but with such a high turnover rate, there is bound to be some quality issues from time to time. Critics are always hoping to be able to tag each new Woody Allen film as "a return to form", like they are desperate for him to deliver another Manhattan. But Woody has left Manhattan behind and is in the middle of his Eurotrip that has included London (not successful), Barcelona (mildly successful), and now Paris (c'est tres bon!).
One of the criticisms thrown at Woody during his stay in London was that he shot a tourist's version of London, where everything seemed to be set at the Gherkin or other easily identifiable landmarks. In Paris, he seems to be giving a nod and a wink to his critics by starting off the movie with a snapshot of a tourist's view of Paris (Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc. It's very accurate, I've been there and they were my immediate impressions of it), but once this is finished he quickly gets down to business and focuses on telling us an utterly charming and funny story.
Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a Hollywood screenwriter who dreams of writing a "proper novel" who joins his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) in tagging along with her condescending parents on a business trip to Paris. Enamoured by the vibe and the culture, Gil decides to walk the streets of Paris at night alone instead of hanging around with Inez's insufferable know-it-all lecturer Paul (a wonderful Michael Sheen), and hitching a lift in a vintage car Gil ends up partying the night away with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Ernest Hemingway... wait, that can't be right, can it?
Yes it can actually, because Midnight In Paris is Allen's love letter to the "Golden Age" of Paris and uses a fantastical time travel mechanism to transport Gil back to the roaring twenties where the creative and cultural elite descended upon Gay Paree.
Owen Wilson, once again doing an excellent job at portraying Owen Wilson, proves to be a natural fit for the Allen role and helps to sell the central concept with his charm and enthusiasm, so much that we don't care whether it is real or just in Gil's head.
This "Moveable Feast", as Hemingway called it, is filled with some delightful cameos; Adrien Brody is delightfully nutty as "Da-Lee", a relatively unknown (to me at least) Corey Stall is terrific as Hemingway and Marion Cotillard, the most beautiful creature to have ever graced the silver screen, is utterly beguiling as Picasso's lover and Gil's potential muse Adriana. I myself would question returning to the present if it meant getting to stay with Marion.
Gil's novel concerns a man who works in a Nostalgia shop, which Paul critiques as "Nostalgia is denial - denial of the painful present... the name for this denial is golden age thinking - the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in - its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present."
Gil realises during one of his midnight jaunts Adriana reveals she wishes she could have lived in the era of Belle Epoque and the people there yearn for the Renaissance, and the reality that by living in the past, it will never be enough and Gil is missing out on the present and what possibilities lie in store for him there.
This notion is also true for fans and critics of Woody Allen. They spend so much time going on and on about how great his films were during the late seventies and early eighties, that they could be blinding themselves to the fact that Allen can still produce some terrific films today, and Midnight In Paris is one that can rank up there with the best of his back catalogue.
Just like the opening sequence of Manhattan always makes me want to go to the Big Apple, by the end of Midnight I was ready to book a another trip to Paris and immediately digging out my copy of A Moveable Feast... now who's getting all nostalgic?