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Midnight in Paris Another Late Gem from Woody Allen

Midnight in Paris
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Sony Pictures Classics, 2011

Woody Allen  is 75 going on 76, and has made nearly 50 films, nearly one a year since 1969.  His debut film What’s Up, Tiger Lily? came out in 1966 when Allen was 31.  The period of 1966-1969 was Allen’s “slacker” period.  I mean, 3 years between movies.  That’s his longest drought.  Since 2001, Allen being 76 at the time mind you, he’s made 11 movies.  Allen does more than you or I do.

With that, comes movies that are mostly average, occasionally bad, and then when he’s good, he’s real good.  Allen’s best movies came in the 70’s, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still make movies that approach those now and again.  In a way, he throws as much creative output as he can to see what sticks.  I don’t think he cares one way or another if critics enjoy it.  He enjoys the work, and that’s what matters.

Midnight in Paris surprisingly stars Owen Wilson as Gil, a hack Hollywood writer trying to write his first novel.  He’s engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams), and they’re vacationing in Paris with Inez’s parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy), and friends Carol (Nina Arianda) and pedantic douchebag Paul (Michael Sheen).  It’s easy to see early on that Gil and Inez are not exactly a great couple.  She wants to experience a textbook vacation in Paris, and is obviously drawn to Paul, while he wants to experience a more romantic tour of Paris.

One night, they break off from each other and he walks around the city, and gets picked up by a classic Peugeot.  This is Woody Allen’s DeLorean, as Gil finds himself whisked away to the 1920’s, where he meets F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston, Thor’s Loki), his wife Zelda (Allison Pill), Cole Porter (Yves Heck), and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll, in a scene-stealing performance).  Hemingway tells Gil he should show his manuscript to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), who is currently helping out Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo).  While visiting Stein, he meets the alluring Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who is having an affair with Picasso and has made a career of being the “other woman.”

Gil comes back to the present and then goes right back to the 20’s every midnight.  Gil loves the 20’s, and his love of the era begins to cast doubt on his pending nuptials.  Allen puts an ironic twist on Gil’s love of the past; at first an endearing character trait which is mocked by Paul, it becomes a conflict that Gil needs to address.  Paul is an insufferable ass but he is right.

Allen is no stranger to flights of fancy.  He’s made a lot of movies that are pure fantasy, and I don’t think he’s really thought of in that manner.  But movies like Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), Stardust Memories, Alice, Zelig, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Deconstructing Harry, and even Annie Hall have moments that step outside of reality.  Here, he steps into the 20’s with confidence and with a funny spin.  The name-dropping becomes hilarious, especially by the time Gil is meeting Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), artist Man Ray (Tom Cordier), and filmmaker Luis Bunuel (Adrien de Van).  When Gil offers up an “idea” for what will eventually become Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, I may have not laughed harder in a theatre this year.  Yes, the joke requires you to know a little about Bunuel and that film, but Bunuel’s reaction to Gil is priceless.  If you were to extrapolate that it takes Bunuel roughly 40 more years to make that film, it’s even funnier.

This is a great movie.  Escapism at its best.

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