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Review: Midnight in Paris

Paris in 2010, Paris in the 1920s, Paris by day, Paris by night. Woody Allen’s latest offering, Midnight in Paris is really about the beauty of the city. Not the picturesque, postcard beauty Paris is associated with, but the beauty of the vibrant history of this city.

This is the story of Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), the Hollywood hack who’s struggling to fulfill his dream of becoming a real writer. He loves Paris and he loves the Twenties, for it was the time and place to be for a writer. His fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams), is less romantic, she hates walking, she hates the rain and she prefers the comfort of Malibu to the cultural weight of Paris (but she’ll settle for L.A as well). A mismatched pair, the two are on the verge of collapse from the word go. Their displeasure with each other becomes more apparent as they encounter the insufferable Paul Bates (Michael Sheen), a top-notch fake who thrives on the pretensions Paris has to offer (he is an expert on art, architecture, literature and of course French wine). In a bid to escape Paul’s company, Gil decides to walk back to the hotel alone one night and on the stroke of midnight, is lead away by a group of merrymakers in a vintage car. What follows is a time-travel-trip where much to his astonishment, Gil meets his idols – Earnest Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Luis Bunuel and practically the entire generation of intellectuals who were in Paris in the 1920s. Gil moves in and out of the Twenties, marveling at every moment and every person he encounters there, consequently loving his own life and his very 2010 fiancé lesser every day.

Over the years, Woody Allen’s muse has moved; from Manhattan whom he loved in one film after another, recent years have seen him romancing Europe—from Vicky Cristina Barcelona to You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (set in London) and now Midnight in Paris. However, Allen’s signature touch of a city at the centre of the film is very much intact in Midnight in Paris. The most attractive feature of this film is his talent for using his characters to paint a city. By jumping eras, Allen is able to present two very different images of Paris—one is the somewhat clinical, pristine beauty that the inhabitants of 2010 occupy. It is marked by its upscale hotels, tourist spots and most significantly the jazzy lights on the Eiffel Tower. The other is the darker but more lush beauty of 1920s Paris where wine flew readily and people were ready to follow each other for the sake of adventure without asking any questions. Like any period film, this part of the film is more warmly lit and has an aura of sensuality all over it (which is helped by the beautiful Marion Cotillard who plays Picasso’s mistress Adriana). In other words, Allen brings alive the romance of Paris by giving the nostalgia that surrounds the city a visible, manifest form.

However, this film is also a case of Allen being haunted by himself. Once again, the protagonist of the film is a person who is burdened by the drudgery and emptiness of his life and is thus seeking something special. The randomness of everyday life in the city that made films like Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) and Annie Hall (1977) so endearing is here converted into a general randomness that plagues fantasy that hasn’t been thought through patiently enough. Further, Allen seems to have invested Owen Wilson with all the characteristics that made him a popular actor in his movies, however, the constant whining and the prosaic-ness that Allen had somehow managed to make acceptable and even likeable are just plain annoying when executed by Wilson. The lowest point of the film still remains Inez who is a character Allen will soon disown—a terrible stereotype, written as a cardboard opposite of Adriana, ie lacking beauty, sophistication, sensuality, mystery and a sense of adventure.

While Midnight in Paris doesn’t have the raw, effortless beauty and wild energy of Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), it is definitely better crafted, more intense and a lot prettier than Allen’s previous venture, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010).

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