DVD Review: Midnight in Paris

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Review: Midnight in Paris (12) / Directed by: Woody Allen / Written by: Woody Allen / Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody, Michael Sheen, Carl Bruni / Release Date: Out Now

In which Woody Allen does sci-fi. Seriously. Well, sort of… With a budget of $17 million, Woody Allen’s charming romantic fantasy Midnight in Paris pulled in a whopping $150 million at the Box Office worldwide making it easily the writer/director/legend’s most successful film ever. Maybe Woody should take a walk on our wild side a bit more often…

Midnight in Paris is, in reality, very much ‘fantasy lite’, using a tried and trusted and convenient ‘time travel’ trope to tell a trademark Allen romance steeped in a nostalgic yearning for the past and an uncomfortable reluctance to embrace the trivia and pace of the modern world. Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a successful hack Hollywood screenwriter who is struggling to write his first novel. Holidaying with his fiance Inez (McAdams) and her family in Paris, Gil finds himself frustrated by Inez’z fascination with the pretentious Paul (Sheen). Gil is keen to relocate to Paris but Inez is having none of it. Crying off a night on the town with Inez and Paul, Gil finds himself lost amongst the alleyways of Paris when a Rolls Royce full of partygoers in 1920s attire pulls up at midnight and the occupants invite him to join in their decadent fun and games. They whisk him off to a bar where a bemused Gil finds himself rubbing shoulders with Cole Porter, the Fitzgeralds, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway and, ultimately, Gertrude Stein who offers to read Gil’s work-in-progress novel. But when Gil tries to return to his hotel to collect his manuscript, he finds himself back in the twenty-first century…

Considering his new coterie of like-minded friends it’s hardly surprising that Gil becomes obsessed with travelling back into ‘the past’ every midnight (even if he doesn’t waste much time questioning how and why it’s happening) and before longs he’s confiding in the likes of Salvador Dali and flirting with Pablo Picasso’s mistress Adriana (Cotillard). But eventually Gil realises that everyone, even his friends in the 1920s, has their very own imagined ‘Golden Age’ and that it’s in the nature of things that no-one’s ever really happy in whatever time they find themselves born in and will find themselves yearning for some romanticised earlier age. But he also discovers that he doesn’t have to play with all the cards he’s been dealt and that maybe Inez and her hectoring family aren’t right for him after all…

Midnight in Paris’s time travel conceit is, of course, just a handy construct around which Allen can fashion his leisurely, contemplative storyline. It’s clear that as Allen gets older he gets more reflective - Midnight in Paris is slyly wry rather than outright funny (even though Wilson is clearly channelling the familiar Allen persona from the director’s own performing days) - and this is a film which is a love letter to Paris itself as much as it’s a poignant and charming love story. The three-minute plus picture postcard montage which opens the film may seem a bit on the indulgent side but it absolutely serves to set the mood and the tone of the piece and, if nothing else, reminds those with a short-term memory where the action’s going to take place. Allen’s camera loves Paris, wandering through back alleys and past street cafes and flea markets, the perfect backdrop to Gil’s slowburn friendship with pretty antiques dealer Gabrielle (Lea Seydoux).

So Woody Allen does sci-fi. No rampaging robots from the future, no twisty-turny time paradoxes. But without even intending to make a genre piece Allen has crafted a light, pleasant romance full of rich atmosphere, period charm and evocative jazz music but with just a soupcon (as the French would say) of fantasy to add a little bit of spice and intrigue. It might not be Annie Hall, but it’s good to see that, at 77 years of age, Woody Allen’s still got his mojo and it’s still in full working order.

Special features: None. Woody Allen lets his films do the talking.

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