Saturday, July 23, 2011

Movie Review: "Midnight in Paris"

It's been a few years since I've seen one of Woody Allen's movies (the last one I saw was 2008's delightfully zany Vicky Cristina Barcelona), and I'm pleased that my return to his films, Midnight in Paris, was so amusing, thought provoking and well written.

Hollywood writer Gil Pender (Owen Wilson embodies Woody's alter ego this go-round) and his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), are tagging along on her parents' trip to Paris. Gil is reasonably unsettled about the future—he'd like to avoid returning to Hollywood and having to write or rewrite scripts, in favor of settling in Paris and writing a novel, desires Inez most passionately does not share. Running into old friends Paul (a merrily pompous Michael Sheen) and Carol (Broadway actress Nina Arianda) puts the couple's relationship further on edge, as Inez wants to spend all of her time with them (especially Paul, on whom she had a crush in college), while Gil would rather wander the streets of Paris, drink in the charm of the city and imagine what it would have been like to experience the City of Lights in the 1920s.

And then one night he magically finds himself in the nostalgic time he longs for, sharing drinks and philosophies with Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Dali and others. The contrast between the joy he feels in the past and the dissatisfaction he feels in the present isn't lost on him, especially when he meets Picasso's beautiful mistress/muse, Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who actually longs to live in the Paris of the 1890s, the "belle epoque." But the longer he spends in the time he has romanticized, the more he realizes what he most needs and wants in his "real life."

I've always been transfixed by books and movies that somehow juxtapose reality with fantasy, which is one of the reasons Midnight in Paris appealed to me so much. I thought Allen's dialogue was pitch-perfect in many scenes, as Gil and his compatriots explored the ideals of love, creativity, passion and inspiration, and I enjoyed Gil's struggles between present and past. While McAdams' character was so unappealing you wondered what exactly Gil saw in her, I found the acting on the whole quite strong, with the actors tearing into their roles with great gusto (especially those playing the famous writers and artists). Allen's movies are always heavy on dialogue, so that may not appeal to everyone, but I highly recommend it. It made me think, it made me laugh and it made me smile a little wistfully when it was over.

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