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 transported nearly
90 years back in time to the Jazz Age, rubbing elbows with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway. As something of 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 myster-ious 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, but 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 film shorts 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 noctur-nal muse Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard, end up meeting — reveals sometimes immediate, sometimes belated, depending on both the script and a viewer's own knowledge base — are 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 (an interesting resource that I've neglected to consult since writing about it last year; this link to its Tumblr blog came through a Google search), although such comparison is an in-exact 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.
Updated and revised March 2019
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