Midnight In Paris opens with postcard scenes of the French capital. The Arc de Triomphe, the Mus?e du Louvre, sidewalk caf?s, the Seine, the Eiffel Tower. Paris by day, by night. Paris in the summer rain.
As much as this latest Woody Allen project is a movie for people who love Paris and appreciate art and literature, writer-director Allen keeps his script’s many art and literature references light. A basic knowledge of early 20th century art and American literary expatriates in Paris in the 1920s is enough to enjoy this immersive romantic fantasy.
Allen, keeping himself out of the picture, conjures magic in Parisian streets and alleyways from behind the camera. Owen Wilson stars as the focus of that magic, playing one of those conflicted characters Allen used to cast himself as when he was a younger man.
Wilson’s Gil, an in-demand Hollywood screenwriter who aspires to much less lucrative, literary pursuits, travels to Paris with his fianc?e and her parents. It’s obvious to moviegoers, if not Gil, that he and stereotypically shallow American Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, are not on the same page.
Gil is a romantic. He’s got a breathless crush on Paris. He wants to walk in the Parisian rain. Inez doesn’t get it. “There’s nothing beautiful about walking in the rain,” she says before jumping into a cab.
The materialistic Inez prefers shopping for trophy antiques to place in the couple’s anticipated home in Malibu than contemplating life as a poor artist creating unappreciated masterpieces in a Parisian attic.
Inez, her parents and her friend, Paul, a pedantic American scholar played by Michael Sheen, belittle Gil at every turn. Of course, Inez thinks Paul is a brilliant man and a great dancer.
“Gil, just pay attention,” she instructs her fianc? during a museum visit with Paul. “You might learn something.”
Gil will learn much in Paris, but from much better teachers than the insufferable Paul.
As usual, Allen attracts a stellar ensemble to his cast. Playing a rich collection of French and American characters, Carla Bruni and Oscar-winners Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody and Marion Cotillard join Wilson, McAdams and Sheen.
Cotillard pulls heart strings as Adriana, the beautiful French muse for an international succession of artists. Brody makes an expressive cameo as a Spanish surrealist. Corey Stoll amuses, too, as a moody, intensely macho American writer who nevertheless proves helpful to aspiring novelist Gil.
Working from the pages of Lost Generation-era history, Allen gives his characters a cache of great lines.
“I keep forgetting that you’re a tourist,” Adriana tells Gil. “That’s putting it mildly,” he replies.
In Midnight In Paris, Allen depicts Paris with the same affection he’s portrayed New York. Clever, fun and poignant with an escape clause, this sweet cinematic postcard transports susceptible romantics to the City of Light.