These days, a slight Woody Allen film is a welcome thing, as your other option is most likely an annoying one. Allen is still capable of top-tier films (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Match Point), but his batting average has been at a career low for quite some time. So something like Midnight in Paris – whimsical, loose, free of the more distasteful Allenisms – engenders enthusiasm to some degree, but mostly relief.
Midnight in Paris features another Allen surrogate, this time Owen Wilson as Gil, a hack Hollywood screenwriter working on his first serious novel while vacationing in Paris with his shrill fiance (a wasted Rachel McAdams). Gil, who dreams of living in Paris during the 1920s, takes a midnight stroll through the city’s streets each night. One evening, a period car appears and whisks him back in time where he meets the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and other artistic icons of the era.
I wish Wilson employed his own daffiness rather than Allen tics, but overall Midnight in Paris has a playfulness that works. A sense of magic realism pervades the air, buoyed by the delightfully silly impressions of Jazz Age giants, especially Corey Stoll’s boorish Hemingway and Adrien Brody as a rhinoceros-obsessed Salvador Dali.
Midnight in Paris strikes a nice balance between starry-eyed romanticism and cynical detachment. Juxtaposing postcard shots of the city with Gil’s dopey, tourist grin, Allen both acknowledges and spoofs Paris’ enduring romantic allure. Later, when Gil encounters a Roaring Twenties party girl (Marion Cotillard) who longs to live in an earlier time, the whole notion of nostalgia comes under welcome suspicion (everyone thinks their moment in time is the dullest).
Altogether, Midnight in Paris is almost as pleasant as your own moonlit stroll. Just don’t think about the fact that Woody Allen in his prime would have knocked something like this out in his sleep.