The only real misstep in Woody Allens MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is, unfortunately, in the opening montage that shows the City of Lights progressing from morning to evening. While there is no denying that this is a city of seemingly limitless picturesque vistas that range from the familiar to the novel, Allen is entranced by too many of them. A sense of anticipation about what will shortly be taking place in the shadow of Notre Dame and other landmarks is replaced with an incipient restlessness. What follows, though, is worth the wait. This is one of Allens best fables, touched with the mystic and the fantastic and the deeply human as its hero, Gil (Owen Wilson), longs for the romance so sorely lacking in his life and decides that only Paris can furnish him with same.
Visiting there with his beautiful but vapid fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her stodgy parents, he comes to regret never having taken a shot living in Paris as a young man and writing a novel of literary merit. Instead, he opted for the life of a successful Hollywood screenwriter, raking in cash, but starving his soul, before attempting the tome. The more time he spends with Inez and her indifference to the city, the more he longs for romance of Paris in the 1920s, and the more restless he becomes with Inez and her family, until the night he decides to take a walk instead of going dancing with Inez and her friends, the equally vapid Carol (Nina Arianda) and the aggressively pedantic Paul (Michael Sheen) who has been known to argue his mistaken facts with museum guides. Gil gets lost soaking in the atmosphere until, at the stroke of midnight, a vintage car pulls up next to him and the exquisitely dressed occupants offer him a ride. Insist, is more like it, as they whisk him to a costume party of old-fashioned charm, where Cole Porter is being played on the grand piano of the equally grand apartment, and he is introduced to a couple named Fitzgerald, Scott(Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (Alison Pill). When hes told that the pianist isnt just playing Porter, but is the great man himself, Gil isnt sure if hes insane, dreaming, or its really happening, Gil decides he doesnt care and revels in the opportunity to visit the place of his dreams and be welcomed with open arms by his idols, including Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway (Corey Stoll). Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) offers to critique his novel in progress, and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) offers him the surrealist explanation for why he is visiting the past.
He also falls for Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a dress designer and arts groupie currently dating Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo). That everyone is exactly what he expects them to be, and that it is impossible to walk ten paces without encountering a legend, is at once charming and suspicious, with Zeldas glitzy comet of ravishing contradictions, Hemmingways aggressive masculinity and clipped way of speaking, Steins brusque warmth, and Dalis childlike insanity burbling infectiously with his pronunciation an adventure if elocution. These characters, superbly drawn by top-flight thespians, recreate the mythos of that time and place with nary a trace of irony, seducing the viewer the way the ci-mentioned time and place seduced Gil even before he saw it first-hand. If Picasso never argued with Stein what his painting of Adriana was meant to convey, it doesnt matter. Bates and Di Fonzo Bo make it irrefutably true.
Gil travels back and forth between the two worlds, more and more reluctant to leave his nighttime nirvana, a feeling reinforced with the perfectly unselfconscious zinged barbs from Inezs mother (Mimi Kennedy), who holds forth on the value but not the worth of antiques, and from Inezs father (Kurt Fuller), who extols the right-wing fringe of American politics. How Gil, a self-reflective, slightly schlubby idealist, became entangled with people who have never heard of the pitfalls of the unexamined life, and would be hard-pressed to understand the concept if they had, is less interesting than if he will find the wherewithal to disentangle himself.
Bittersweet whimsy pervades the biting humor as Allen once again examines the subject of romance and the bumbling, self-destructive ways people go about trying to find it and then to hang on to it. The twists are classic, the dialogue is disarmingly straightforward, and the journey to happiness is punctuated with near-misses and even nearer disasters. Romance, though, has never been portrayed so irresistibly, made to seem so accessible, and yet at the same time so easy to slip from ones grasp as characters reach for shiny baubles that distract them for a moment only to leave them longing for something of substance.