February 7, 2013 by CINEfaction Movie Review.
Owen Wilson plays a beleaguered writer freshly in love with Paris in all of its various guises. He has found himself floundering, struggling to find common ground with his fiancé (played by Rachel McAdams) and to ‘finish’ his book. Whilst venturing on searching, hopefully inspiring late night walks down the enchanting streets of Paris he is seemingly transported into 1920’s. There he meets artistic greats like Dali and Hemmingway and they give him inspiration and insight into their often tortured minds. Through these visits the veil is lifted on both his books anima and his relationship with McAdams. Much like the excellent Hugo, Midnight in Paris concerns itself primarily with the intense love of the arts. Hugo championed the birth of movie imagination whilst Midnight in Paris laments the idea of the struggle of artistic brilliance.
The movie’s charm and innocence is its real strength; watching Wilson unwittingly interact with the caricatures of past art royalty is touching as his love for them is clear. Wilson’s performance is surprisingly solid. He does tread familiar lines; essentially it’s the same bumbling but well meaning character he has made a sweet living off but this time its through the keen eye and literary wit of Woody Allen, who manages to temper and sweeten Wilson’s usual skatty dribbles. Woody Allen is a marvelous filmmaker, not because his films are always entirely successful but because of his steadfast and incredible output. Indeed, even into his 70’s he has continued to produce films of occasional brilliance year on year. I would argue that Midnight in Paris represents his most consistent work since 2008’s much loved Vicky Cristina Barcelona and maybe even before that. Allen’s screenplay delicately weaves the allegorical past segments into reality and we really get a sense of Wilson’s developing consciousness and the shedding of his apathy. His slow personal realisation by the ending of the picture represents pure cinematic romantic cliché in its predictability but you never feel cheated because it’s simply what should happen.
McAdams unfortunately is simplistically painted as a brat; this makes it difficult to imagine why a ‘successful’ somewhat enlightened writer like Wilson would be interested in her (aside from the physical of course). This is a minor quabble however and there are a few notable performances aside from the main driving forces; Alison Pill, Adrien Brody and Kathy Bates do their best with fairly limited screen time. Marion Cotillard is also notable as the symbolic personification of Wilson’s true romantic longing. She is muted, clean and true; it’s the most difficult character to ‘get’ in the piece and she plays it with enough sweetness and intelligence for you to still feel for her beautiful, free-wheeling, bed hopping character.
The films crux is the allure of the past. The set design and costumes are sumptuous but not overwhelming; it would have been easy to push the dial to 10 and try to bludgeon the audience with authenticity and colour. Allen plays it much straighter; everything here seems right but still cinematically bent. The movie is not meant to be a piece history and it intelligently never tries to be. The idea of ‘vintage’ is something that is still an attractive and prevalent fashion fad; so it seems fitting that we have a movie that so adequately unpicks the notion. Here we have a set of characters seemingly entranced by a romanticised past, one that may or may not have existed. Each generation laments and pines for the generation before it; the film urges us to let the past inform the present but stresses that it’s important not to constantly relive it. It’s a simple concept but still ever so effective, just like the film itself.