I love it when a movie surprises me, and succeeds in exceeding all of my expectations and completely and utterly capturing my imagination. Surprisingly, Midnight in Paris is such a film. I say "surprising" because historically Woody Allen and I have not been the best of friends. Prior to Paris there was a grand total of two, yes two Allen films I could say I liked - The Purple Rose of Cairo and Scoop. Midnight in Paris blows past its slim competition in Allen's filmography, and indeed shoots past most of its contemporary competition to achieve the elusive mark of ultimate favor from me - that of a modern-day classic. This is one of those rare films that I can best describe by saying it "gets" me. This is a film that engaged me on all fronts, emotionally and intellectually, best experienced in a packed theater full of like-minded patrons who feel the exact same way.
Woody Allen gets me on that deep a level? Yes. Apparently so. File that under things I never thought I'd type. :)
Gil is a romantic, who longs to escape his hum-drum existence as a scriptwriter in Hollywood to pen a novel like his literary heroes who inhabited Paris in the 1920s - Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, etc. He's engaged to his complete opposite, Inez - a pretentious, nagging twit who has no understanding or sympathy for Gil's literary aspirations or romantic nature. In keeping with the theme of "firsts" for this movie, Gil is played by Owen Wilson, who is absolutely delightful, funny, and charming - and again, those are three adjectives I never thought I'd apply to that man. Wilson fills the requisite "Woody Allen" role with dash and endearing style, and if he would tap into this side of his acting personality more often I could be a huge fan. Rachel McAdams, as Inez, I can take or leave quite easily. I thought she was excellent in the Shakespearean-themed Slings and Arrows series, and later this year we'll get to see her take on Irene Adler in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (which sounds more like a video game than a film, but whatevs). She plays the incredibly clueless, annoying Inez really, really well. (I'm ignoring the oh-so-unsurprising Republican stereotyping mercifully and briefly employed vis-a-vis Inez's parents.)
I was an English major in college, and this film actually succeeded in making me really and truly miss school, homework and deadlines and all. Midnight in Paris is a lit lover's dream come true. Whether or not you cherish the works of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, their own special brand of genius and impact on literature cannot be denied. Watching Gil geek out over meeting his writing heroes is like the ultimate in English major wish fulfillment, simply imagine yourself in his shoes, standing opposite a favorite author, and voila, the magic of Midnight in Paris is instantly personalized.
The soundtrack to this world is glorious. Allen had the good taste to liberally sprinkle the soundtrack with Cole Porter songs - the man is a absolute favorite of mine, so witty and urbane and intelligent. The song choices and instrumental pieces provide a glorious soundscape for Gil's time-tripping Parisian adventure.
One of the film's biggest charms is its characterization of literary and artistic giants like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso. While Adrien Brody was absolutely hilarious with his over-the-top, energetic portrayal of Dali, Corey Stoll, I think, stole the show with his interpretation of Ernest Hemingway. Dry, hilariously monotone, and just positively seething with an over-the-top, excessive sense of hyper-masculinity, Stoll just owned the screen as Hemingway. Which was good for Hemingway, because I have never been a big Hemingway fan...
F. Scott Fitzgerald, however, is another story, my friends. And this isn't just a Great Gatsby thing, Gatsby is all well and good but it's his short stories that make my heart sing. I absolutely wore out my reprint edition copy of Flappers and Philosophers. Anyways, if you've been around the blog for a while, you know I'm a ridiculously excitable Tom Hiddleston fangirl, and when he came on-screen as Fitzgerald I nearly jumped out of my chair. One has to admire the man's acting range - he covers Masterpiece fans with his turns in Cranford and Wallander, and comic book movie fans with utterly memorable, completely beguiling, loved-every-second-of-it turn as Loki in Thor (my review). Hiddleston and Alison Pill as Zelda did a superb job bringing a little slice of the Fitzgeralds' stormy, passionate relationship to life.
On his "accidental sojourns" into the past Gil meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), one of Picasso's on-again, off-again lovers. The two instantly click, in no small part due to the fact that they are both die-hard romantics by nature. Cotillard positively shines as Adriana. She looks as though she were made to inhabit 1920s Paris (just one way of saying she is class personified) - her turn in Public Enemies (my review) also proves her affinity for the period - and Allen plays up her etheral beauty to great effect, making it easy to see how she captivates Gil from the moment they meet.* I loved Cotillard's appearance in Inception (my review), and I'm really looking forward to seeing her in The Dark Knight Rises next year.
*The scene where Gil tries to hide the fact that he was going to give Adriana a pair of Inez's earrings was comedy GOLD. Also, while I'm on the subject of Gil and women, his scenes with Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) are wonderful. Blunt, forthright, and brassy, Bates was wonderful in the role.
Unlike Gil and to his ever-lasting shock, Adriana does not hold the belief that her time is a golden age. She longs to live in the Paris of the 1890s, when artists like Edgar Degas (Francois Rostain) and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Vincent Menjou Cortes) frequented the Moulin Rouge and restaurants like Maxim's, a gathering place for the glittering social and artistic elite of the day. It was a real treat to see this film's recreation of Maxim's, as my first filmic introduction to that famous address was in the 1958 film Gigi.
It's only after Gil follow's Adriana into her dream world that he realizes living in the past isn't all its cracked up to be (i.e., a lack of vaccinations in 1890s Paris). Living with one's eyes completely on the past blinds one to the charms of the present, and strips the era in question of its uniqueness and beauties. Balance is the key, and it's a concept that Allen beautifully articulates on-screen. Midnight in Paris knows what makes nostalgia lovers like me tick. We can't recapture a golden age, but we can love it and appreciate it, and through that appreciation enrich our present.
As Gil discovers, it's best not to live in one's dreams, you might say, but to use those dreams to enrich one's present - and when one finds like-minded souls that share the same passions, so much the better, no? :) I was excited to see Gabrielle, a fellow Cole Porter aficionado, played by Lea Seydoux, last seen as Isabella in Robin Hood (my review) and later this year in Mission Impossible.
I adored every second of this movie. Midnight in Paris is a film for dreamers, a love letter to romantics, a rare movie-going experience for lit lovers to savor. Packed with glorious shots of Paris, past and present, to savor, gorgeous costumes and period detail, top-notch acting, and hilarious one-liners, get thee to a theater to see Midnight in Paris ASAP. If you need more convincing, read Rachel's fantastically articulate take on the film at a Fair Substitute for Heaven.