Woody Allen does time travelMovie Review Thursday, May 26th, 2011
MOVIE REVIEW: For the first 25 years of his career, Woody Allen couldn’t make a bad movie. In fact, he made several inarguable masterpieces like Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Then about 15 years ago – shortly after he left Mia Farrow for Farrow’s adopted daughter and was then accused of molesting his own daughter – Allen’s work became inconsistent. He made some great movies, like Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and some pretty lame ones, like Celebrity, Scoop, and Melinda and Melinda.
I am happy to say that his latest film, Midnight in Paris, is one of the good ones, a delightful, fantastical comedy about what happens when one of your greatest dreams comes true.
As in most of Allen’s comedies, if Allen isn’t the star, the lead actor is usually a stand-in for Allen. In Midnight in Paris, this time that stand-in is Gil, played to wide-eyed, neurotic, self-flagellating perfection by Owen Wilson. He is a successful screenwriter of terrible Hollywood hits, but he really wants to be a serious novelist, and the book he’s working on takes place in a nostalgia shop.
One night, after drinking with and being irritated by his family and friends, Gil decides to go for a midnight stroll through the city. After he gets lost, an old car rolls up and the Parisians inside beckon him with liquor and laughter. Gil gets in the car and ends up in the 1920s, when and where he encounters and befriends his literary and artistic idols, including F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali and Gertrude Stein, who agrees to critique Gil’s novel.
And he meets Adriana, Pablo Picasso’s girlfriend, who Gil quickly becomes infatuated with, a task not terribly surprising since she is played by slinky, stunning Marion Cotillard. Once Gil discovers that he can go back to the wondrous 1920s every night, his unsatisfying 2011 life becomes rather complicated, and those complexities make for classic comedic fodder.
Except when he was infatuated with a mediocre blonde actress like Mia Farrow or Scarlett Johansson, Allen has always cast his films perfectly, and every actor in Midnight in Paris makes the most of Allen’s trademark quick, pungent lines.
Wilson is perhaps the most fun to watch. He’s a limited actor; he never does anything much different from Wilson himself. But he’s never had the sort of material to work with that he does here, and as the film’s endearing, wry and amazed tour guide to post-war Paris, he does the best work of his career.
Every other role is comparatively small, but Rachel McAdams and Cotillard make the most of being Allen’s archetypes, respectively, of a harpy and an angel. Michael Sheen gets a laugh from his pretentious, “pedantic” character’s every ostentatious display of intelligence, and as Hemingway, Corey Stoll provides a parody of the great writer’s clipped diction and distinct bravado that is pitch perfect and more than a little sexy.
Midnight in Paris
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, and Rachel McAdams
Opens May 27
At Landmark Hillcrest and La Jolla
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