Friday, 28 October 2011

REVIEW: Midnight in Paris


At the age of 75, Woody Allen is showing no sign of slowing down.

This month, the veteran writer and director returned with Midnight in Paris. It contains all the staples of a Woody Allen classic – romance, quick wit, lengthy focus on forming and deteriorating relationships – but it also introduces a new twist: fantasy.

The story focuses on would-be novelist Gil (Owen Wilson) who is visiting modern day Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams). Not satisfied with tourist spots or boutique shopping, Gil longs to visit Paris in the 1920s at the height of its Golden Age. Magically, he stumbles upon an antique car at midnight and he is transported back in time to brush shoulders with his literary and artistic heroes.

Allen is clearing having a lot of fun at the helm. The fantastical plot allows him free reign to drop in as many fan-pleasing cameos as he pleases. Therefore, Gil meets the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and – in a scene-stealing performance by Adrien Brody – a very bonkers Salvador Dali determined to draw a rhinoceros. Allen’s writing is sharp as ever and he creates a lot of humour playing with our expectations of these characters, Extras-style.

Without revealing too much, the time travel takes on further dimensions as the story progresses and the showcase of great characters never slows down or disappoints. One scene with a very lost private investigator is a particular laugh-and-loud delight.

Determined not to be left behind by Hollywood, Allen has cast rising stars (Tom Hiddleston, Marion Cotillard), established A-list names (Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, Carla Bruni) and very recognisable character actors (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy are a joy to watch as Inez' uptight parents).

Meanwhile, Rachel McAdams and Owen Wilson revisit their Wedding Crashers chemistry, only this time they are falling apart as opposed to falling in love. Furthermore, Wilson excels as the emotional core of the film. No-one can rival Wilson as the likeable, upbeat, everyman - he practically owns the patent to this role.

It is a shame that Midnight in Paris will be underwatched and unappreciated. It has too much brains, depth and style to please the mainstream rom-com crowd and it will also be overlooked by the Academy. The Academy notoriously dislikes comedy and fantasy, whilst there is no performance as attention-grabbing as Penelope Cruz's Oscar-winning turn in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (although arguably Marion Cottilard's more subtle presence is just as worthy).

Nevertheless, Midnight in Paris deserves to find an audience. It is charming, sweet, whimsical and thought-provoking with no small amount of magic.

In short, it is a Woody Allen film.


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