From the party to subsequent pubs and apartments, he’s surrounded by all the artistic greats who flocked to Paris (and have inspired Gil) at the beginning of the twentieth century: F. Scott Fitzgerald, his emotional wife Zelda, Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, Picasso, and Gertrude Stein (just to name a few). 

They are all just as he imagined: larger than life, engaged in conversations dedicated strictly to important artistic thought and passion rather than shallow chit-chat. These visits to the past only last a few hours, with Gil back in his own time by morning, provoked to write while also confronted by the increasing disconnect with his present. 

Of course Gil’s experience is not authentic but rose-colored, and Allen’s broad portrayal of these icons is intentional. They aren’t real; they’re romanticized caricatures. Yet while Gil has idealized them all as being at the heart of an artistic Golden Age, they only feel the frustration and toil of their time, each romanticizing past eras of their own choosing. Slowly and with reluctance, Gil begins to see the folly of his thinking, especially as Adriana—an artistic muse who Gil falls for—dreams of living in the 1800s.

Owen Wilson (Hall Pass) anchors things well as a West Coast incarnation of the Woody persona, lovably anguished with a lazy smile and laugh rather than a worried brow, and mildly-rather-than-manically neurotic. The rest of the cast does well with deliberately one-dimensional roles, serving as foils for both Gil’s misplaced idolatry and frustrations. 

As Adriana, Mario Cotillard (Inception) stands out in this impressive ensemble not only with her beauty but, more so, her bittersweet aura of longing. And Michael Sheen nearly steals the opening act as the passive-aggressive Paul; he’s hilarious.

All of this flows with wit and charm, albeit on a very surface and predictable level. Allen’s statement isn’t anything new here, i.e. that it’s easy to forget the hardships of the eras we lionize, and thus it’s futile to bemoan our own time but, rather, we should embrace it. Now is your Golden Age (whether you like it or not), so live in it rather than lament it. 

Given Allen’s light touch with the material, this plays as a comedy of manners layered with melancholic romance. Despite the conceptual ambition (including a metaphysical influence between the time periods) and litany of icons, his writing and direction purposefully (or lazily) avoids deeper thematic insight and thoughtfulness, leaving this to be nothing much more than a fluffy confection. 

With the exception of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen’s late ‘90s-to-present filmography has been slight, and even thematically ambitious efforts such as Match Point wallow in Allen’s defeated hopelessness without really offering any deeper revelations into the human condition. For a man now in his late 70s, his annual efforts seem to come more from habit than inspiration. Yes, Allen’s a cinematic icon and deservedly so. Still, his ongoing prolific output has been a pale imitation of his former self for well over a decade now. 

In that context, Midnight in Paris is about as good as we can hope for from Woody at this point. Backhanded compliment though it may be, it’s still a sincere one.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Smoking and drinking occurs casually. Occasional drunkenness, like at parties.
  • Language/Profanity: An occasional “hell” or d-word. Vain use of the name “Christ”.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Some flirting, kissing, but nothing heavy or explicit. An engaged man pursues another woman. A woman admits to infidelity.
  • Violence: None.