Woody Allen’s new film Midnight in Paris, which screened at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival (his second film to be given this honour after Hollywood Ending), introduces Gil (Owen Wilson), a Hollywood screenwriter who has now decided to give ‘real’ literature a try. However, as he roams Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and know-all Paul, hoping for inspiration to dawn on him, he feels the need to escape the pretence of the pseudo-intellectuals he is surrounded by and suddenly finds himself partying with his idols, among whom are F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway.
The dialogue is full of references, a result of Mr Allen’s sharp wit, which we have witnessed in many of his previous films but this time it seems all his references come to life in the course of the film, taking the shape of icons of the 1920s – Gil’s idea of Paris, where meeting those you aspire to is possible just like in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). All these symbolic figures are presented to us by no less known faces – Tom Hiddleston as Scott Fitzgerald and Allison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald, Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Adrian Brody as Salvador Dali, Marion Cotillard as Adriana, the muse of a very famous painter, whose name we shall not reveal in order to preserve some of the mystery of the plot, all flicker through the screen to portray the script’s constant allusions.
Owen Wilson delivers his jokes quickly enough, keeping up with the rhythm of the comedy but is a slightly toned-down version of what could have been the director himself. He lacks the neuroticism that Woody Allen’s bespectacled persona added to characters, making them so charming to the audience. Michael Sheen’s Paul is similar to that of Alan Alda’s Lester (Crimes and Misdemeanors) in that he annoys Gil with his dubious knowledge about French culture, art, architecture and everything else while impressing everyone and especially Gil’s bride-to-be Inez.
Ultimately, Woody Allen’s new film doesn’t present anything we didn’t expect from its writer/director but turns into an elegant, showered in bright light reference to his previous work. Midnight in Paris strikes as the director’s attempt to indulge everyone’s desire to be magically transported to their own Golden Era and meet their idols, eventually leading to the realization that one should stay in the space-time continum he belongs to.