Review: Midnight in Paris

PLOT: A jaded Hollywood screenwriter (Owen Wilson), on vacation with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) in Paris, discovers a way to travel back to Paris in the twenties, where he can spend time with his literary heroes, like Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and have his work analyzed by Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). However, things get complicated once he falls in love with a twenties beauty (Marion Cotillard), who herself, yearns for another Parisian Golden Age: La Belle Époque.

REVIEW: Ever since Woody Allen decided to start filming overseas, his creative juices seem to be flowing again. While he’s had the occasional misfire (SCOOP, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER), MIDNIGHT IN PARIS ranks alongside some of his finest recent work- and looks to be another crowd-pleasing hit along the lines of VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA.

Being in his seventies, Allen has wisely given up playing the leading man in his films, instead casting a slew of surrogates, each of whom usually adapt the Allen-esque persona. In WHATEVER WORKS, it was Larry David (less ideal than you’d think), and in MELINDA AND MELINDA it was Will Ferrell. Here, it’s Owen Wilson, and amazingly, he fits the part like a glove, being better here than he’s been in years, aside from his work with Wes Anderson.

Wilson is effortlessly good here as the prototypical Woody Allen hero (i.e- a neurotic writer, with an improbably gorgeous lover), although his character gets to be a little more romantic, and more confident that the usual Allen protagonist. The early parts of the film, involving his sour relationship with his mismatched fiancée are probably the weakest part; not due to any problems with the cast (indeed, McAdams has never looked more beautiful), but rather because it feels a bit too typically Woody. However, once Wilson ends up back in the twenties, the film catches on like gangbusters, with the twenties setting seeming to get Woody’s imagination going, resulting in a film that feels like a bit of a throwback to THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, and his freshest work in years.

It helps if you know your “Lost Generation” writers a bit, as Woody obviously does. He has a lot of fun playing with Ernest Hemingway’s machismo (LAW & ORDER: LA’s Corey Stoll is great), and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tim Hiddleston) relationship with his daffy wife Zelda (a nearly unrecognizable Allison Pill). Adrien Brody has a particularly funny bit as a Rhinoceros- obsessed Salvadore Dali, who pals around with Luis Brunel and Man Ray- none who whom, being surrealists, see anything odd about Wilson’s time traveling predicament.

However, the heart of the film is Wilson’s romance with Cotillard’s character, although don’t let my plot description fool you into thinking this is some kind of SOMEWHERE IN TIME knockoff. The idea of lovers separated by time offers a chance for the film to get maudlin, but the affair comes to a rather unique conclusion, that really says something unique about how nostalgia for the past can blind us to the future, and is the most profound Woody’s felt in a while.

While it’s still not quite golden-age Woody (ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN will probably never be topped), nor does it quite measure up to some of his later, darker films (like the great MATCH POINT, and the underrated CASSANDRA’S DREAM), MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is still an excellent Woody Allen film, and evidence that despite his advancing age, Allen’s still in his prime. Even if you’re not normally a Woody Allen fan, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is highly recommended, and a nice change of pace from some of the heavier, action heavy films out there. At the very least, it’ll make you want to hop on the next flight to Paris.

Review: Midnight in Paris




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.