Originally published at X-Media Online
Woody Allen’s latest babbling love letter, whilst slow at times, takes you on an enchanting and enlightening journey at Exeter’s delightfully intimate Picturehouse.
I am far from well versed in Allen’s CV but anyone with a set of eyes and ears can’t have escaped the fact that a cinematic legend has become a running joke in recent years. And yet Midnight in Paris has been championed loudly as a possible comeback since Cannes, even more so than 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which featured a sizzling kiss between Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson.
There’s no explosive passion of that kind in this film, despite appearances from beauties Rachel McAdams and Marion Cotillard. In fact the sex appeal is of a different nature altogether. Allen lays the seductiveness of the Parisian streets on thick, as you might expect from the title. But then there’s also the exotic charm of what happens to Owen Wilson’s unfulfilled scriptwriter Gil, surely a character embodying Allen’s disgust with his own decline, on his aimless midnight wanderings.
Inexplicably Gil is whisked back in time to the city in the 1920s, an era he views as a deliciously unobtainable “Golden Age”. American literary greats, from Tom Hiddleston’s F.Scott Fitzgerald to Corey Stoll’s hilariously frank Ernest Hemingway, inhabit the nightspots acting droll and generally genius. The beautiful women that were the muses of Picasso and Adrien Brody’s rhinoceros obsessed Salvador Dali dance and sip cocktails in the moonlight.
Allen makes no attempt to ask how Gil finds himself partying in the past, nor does he question whether it’s all a concoction of his stifled imagination. Instead the film focuses on the dangers of living your life longing to be a part of history that’s already been made. Sure the 21st century can be dull and depressingly devoid of truths to discover but what’s the point of clinging to nostalgia?
Gil thinks there are plenty of reasons. He wants to get the manuscript for his novel looked over by Hemingway and be inspired by TS Elliot. Does the film manage to make these 20th century icons into characters though? The answer is; a little. In reality they’re more like caricatures, with Fitzgerald spouting “old sport” like his famous Gatsby, Hemingway constantly spoiling for a fight and Dali little more than an oddball.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter that they lack depth. Midnight in Paris is a fantasy, full of irresistible fun. It’s slow at first but eventually Owen Wilson steams through a couple of fantastically funny scenes, supported by an impressively irritatingly Michael Sheen and others, including French first lady Carla Bruni.
I’ve often craved a more meaningful backdrop of Blitz spirit or Hollywood glamour. But in the end Allen’s uplifting message is simple. The past’s allure lies with its alien mystery. And the great figures of the past were only great because they chose to grasp the present in both hands; to seize the day.
My verdict: 3 out of 5 stars