‘Midnight in Paris’ explores love and nostalgia in a quirky yet meaningful way

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

 

One of the best parts about remembering a treasured memory is how sweepingly it can overtake our state of mind. One minute you’re sitting on a desk overwhelmed with papers and trinkets, watching an asynchronous virtual lecture you should’ve watched weeks ago, and then a random childhood memory temporarily halts any and all productivity. When certain recollections have the power to stop us in our tracks, it’s easy to have a desire to go back in time. Written and directed by Woody Allen, the romantic comedy “Midnight in Paris” heartily explores those themes with a blend of fantasy and time traveling and features an ensemble of literary and artistic icons. 

The Oscars award-winning film follows Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a successful screenwriter-turned-novelist who is easygoing but struggling to complete his novel. Gil is in Paris with his materialistic fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her wealthy Republican parents. After touring a few quaint Parisian hotspots with Inez’s friend Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife Carol (Nina Arianda), an inebriated Gil parts ways with the group, deciding to take a stroll in the streets of Paris while Inez takes off with the others in a taxi. Suddenly lost on the way back to the hotel, a car from the 1920s full of revelers in flapper garb pulls up in front of Gil and coaxes him into joining. Gil arrives at a party attended by Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and a whole slew of other renowned figures. Incredulous, Gil finds more reason to believe he was “born too late,” as he acquaints himself with Ernest Hemingway and even gets Gertrude Stein to proofread a manuscript of his novel. Upon meeting one of Pablo Picasso’s lovers, Adriana (Marion Cotillard), Gil begins to realize that even those living in what he perceives as a golden era also long for a past of their own.

Considered by many to be one of Woody Allen’s best works as a writer and director, “Midnight in Paris” expertly crafts a romantic comedy that is whimsical without overdoing it and surprisingly funny. The whimsiness is emphasized with warm cinematography that lends the film an eye-catching quality. It’s the type of film that will leave you inexplicably happy, even if it’s ending is cliched. 

Owen Wilson as Gil Pender is one of the most likeable characters I’ve seen in a romantic comedy, and Rachel McAdams is brilliant at portraying an antagonistic fiancee. It’s clear that Gil is unhappy with his present, which explains his eagerness to embrace his time-travelling predicament as he embarks on the tried and true journey for self-discovery. What separates this particular journey from the rest is the film’s use of historical figures. There is no better way to explore a lost past than with the “Lost Generation” of writers and artists. Other appearances like the renowned dancer and civil right activist Josephine Baker (Sonia Rolland) and Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) mulling over an unfinished painting add to the film’s dreamlike aesthetic, and scenes with the Fitzgeralds and Gil’s interactions with Hemingway and Stein are entertaining and full of Woody Allen’s prowess for sharp and humorous dialogue. 

At the very least, watching “Midnight in Paris” is a great source of distraction. Sidney Bechet’s clarinets at the opening of the film instantly transport us to a Parisian wonderland, allowing for a euphoric viewing experience from the start. There’s a reason “Midnight in Paris” won best screenplay. It’s a meticulous snapshot of the splendor of Paris that is filled with wisdom and great one-liners.

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