Despite his unassuming stature and wispy white hair, Woody Allen is a risk taker. To begin his latest film with a metropolitan montage reminiscent of his renowned Manhattan, followed by quoting Hemingway’s legendary celebration of Paris as a “movable feast,” Allen invites cultured eyes to critique Midnight in Paris.
Such a nostalgic wager proves shrewd, as Midnight in Paris is undoubtedly Allen’s best in 10 years, silencing critics who long for the “golden age” of Allen filmmaking. With a seasoned ensemble, a poignant theme and an enchanting city as its set, Midnight finally establishes Allen as triumphant in the 21st century.
Heading the ensemble is a remarkably strong Owen Wilson, who fills Allen’s signature plaid jacket and stuttering neuroses to play Gil, a Hollywood writer looking to produce more meaningful literature while in Paris.
To escape the nagging of his fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and the annoyingly intellectual Paul, (a fabulous Michael Sheen), Gil spends his evenings wandering the streets of Paris. He searches for vestiges of F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S Eliot and other members of the “Lost Generation,” who he believes to represent the “Golden Age” of literature. At the stroke of midnight, Gil’s wish to join their ranks is granted as he time travels back to the 1920’s to dine, party and consult with his idols.
Allen’s affection for the “Lost Generation” is obvious, for his parade of writers, painters and patrons includes nearly every great of the era. Allen’s attention to intricate detail also proves his fondness for the era, exemplified in Hemingway’s dialogue matching the famous cadence of his novels and in the surreal absurdity of Adrien Brody’s Salvador Dalí. High school English students as well as furnished English professors will revel in Allen’s inclusion of these nerdy inside jokes that make the time travel at least a little less ludicrous.
Midnight’s cinematography is equally as endearing. Whether the presented charm of Paris is Allen’s camerawork or inherent to the City of Light, it ultimately doesn’t matter. The resulting vivacity of life and color certainly makes the audience share in Gil’s and Allen’s passion for the city.
At the same time, there is a golden tint on every frame of celluloid presented, suggesting that Allen believes beauty realized in present – and not in nostalgia – leads to a realization of one’s presence in a golden age.
If Allen remains with this philosophy, we have many more film treasures awaiting us on the horizon.
Note: Midnight in Paris is currently in limited release, but expect wider distribution soon.
– Michela Smith, Film and TV Editor