Paris Review

Poster for Midnight in Paris with Owen Wilson in blue shirt and light khakis walking along a Paris street, all cast in blue, the sky above rendered like Van Gogh's painting 'Starry Night' in swirling blues with radiant yellow spots

Midnight in Paris was released on home video a couple of weeks ago. I caught it
in the theater last summer and came away with mixed feelings. Upshot? I’d probably recommend it as a rental for the enjoyable execution of the premise; I only wish that the present-day cast was half as compelling as that populating the scenes set in the 1920s.

The film stars Owen Wilson as Gil, a successful American screenwriter and aspiring novelist vacationing in Paris, France. One night he finds himself somehow transported nearly a century back in time to the Jazz Age, rubbing elbows with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway. As rather a devotee of magical realism, in which baldly fantastic elements are introduced into otherwise naturalistic fiction without explanation, I quite liked the matter-of-fact absorption of Gil into this mysterious witching-hour demimonde, but I’m not much of a fan of Wilson’s acting — he was tolerable, and still only tolerable, due to his dialogue so obviously marking him as a stand-in for writer/director Woody Allen (as often happens in Allen films that don’t star Allen himself). I could almost literally see a flickering image of the filmmaker superimposed over Wilson’s laid-back, blond, blank-faced Gil.

Of course the whole point of Gil’s after-midnight escapades is that they’re more
colorful than the life he’s living, yet it’s a shame that we — I and most of the rest of my viewing party, at least; I know that Wilson has his admirers — don’t feel more of an emotional investment in Gil, as well as that Rachel McAdams, who can really sparkle, has so little to do as Gil’s fiancée Inez. Alison Pill does sparkle here as Zelda Fitzgerald, while Corey Stoll is such a standout as the hilariously macho Hemingway that I want to see a series of short films starring him as an anachronistic adventurer in the vein of Robert Downey Jr.’s reimagined Sherlock Holmes. I won’t give away any of the more fleeting supporting roles since the reveals of exactly whom Gil and his nocturnal muse Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard, end up meeting — reveals that are sometimes immediate, sometimes belated, depending on both the script and a viewer’s own knowledge — become part of the fun.

The fact that Midnight in Paris is essentially a trifle in the Allen oeuvre is odd given that its North American box-office take is the biggest ever for an Allen film, before translating past grosses to 2011 dollars, surpassing late in its run even Hannah and Her Sisters. Classics like Annie Hall and Manhattan do come out ahead of both Hannah and Midnight once adjusted for inflation, per Wolfram Alpha, but such comparison is an inexact science since ticket prices don’t rise in lockstep with inflation or the costs of other services. Also strange to me is the film’s critical reception as Allen’s best work in ages, which is a label that seems to have been trotted out once every few years over the past decade — for 2005’s Match Point and again for 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, although I just plugged them into Metacritic and see that Midnight in Paris outscores them both. Was The Curse of the Jade Scorpion such a bomb that Allen has to claw his way out of the boarded-up doghouse with each new release?

I’m curious what you thought of Midnight in Paris if you saw it — and if you didn’t, why you didn’t.

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  1. I'll tell ya, I kinda really don't like Owen Wilson. I just, there's just something about his face and the way he moves it that displeases me. I avoid his movies because of this and because of his voice. Whenever he starts in on some spiel I want to slap him vigorously across the cheek and make him enunciate his words clearly.
    However, I have heard really great things about this movie from all over the place so I may just have to check it out... but I still think it looks stupid and I won't pay to see it. If it shows up free and I am feeling comfy on the couch then I will most likely sit through it.


  2. Well, I don't know how much of the review you read, Mrs. C, although it's fairly spoiler-free, but I hear you on Owen Wilson. I definitely enjoyed what I enjoyed of Midnight in Paris despite him rather than because of him. Parts of it are a real hoot, though, like the general joie de vivre of scenes set in the past and any scene with Hemingway in particular.


  3. Ooh! I didn't realize that it just turned Friday the 13th. Your lucky day?

  4. I skimmed most of your review since I am planning on seeing this soon (especially if it snags some Oscar noms), but I'll come back around once I've caught it.

    @Joan: I hope, despite your aversion to Owen Wilson, you've seen The Royal Tennebaums, one of my favorite comedies of all time?

  5. Yeah, I kinda hated Owen Wilson in this but I do in general. We had a rare family night at the movies and everyone pretty much enjoyed this, even me, because I did like all the characters from the past. Hemingway rocked. Gertrude Stein was a hoot. Picking out the other characters, like you say, was fun. I don't know how many movies you go to and hear people whispering to one another in the audience, "Ooh! Toulouse-Lautrec!"

  6. @Teebore - Ooh, I love that movie! In fact, it's so good that it's the only time I have ever felt something like fondness for Gywnnie Poo(p).