June 15, 2011

Review: From 'Midnight in Paris' with Love

"The present is unsatisfying. That's because life is a little unsatisfying."

Woody Allen proves he's still got it once again with Midnight in Paris. Allen's latest effort is a delightfully whimsical tale set in the city of lights both in the present and the golden age of the 1920s. The picture is a nice surprise and return to form as the veteran filmmaker brings all his trademark humour and sensibilities to the streets of Paris.

The opening static shots of the city in all its beauty, set to classical music evoke the opening of Allen's classic Manhattan. Midnight in Paris a film for romantics as it waxes nostalgic about modern art, culture, and literature. Owen Wilson plays a self-described Hollywood hack writer who walks the Paris at night to find inspiration for his novel.

Like the title alludes, Wilson is magically transported to 1920s Paris at the stroke of midnight. There, he socializes with the likes of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody), Cole Porter, and Pablo Picasso, among many others. The film is populated with amusing, stereotypical portrayals of these famous artists in France.

The best, most fun character hands down is Corey Stoll (Law & Order: Los Angeles) as Ernest Hemingway, who plays the famed writer to the tee with all his insecurities and frightening neuroses. Allen manages to balance the right tone between fantasy and reality as Wilson jumps back and forth between his real life and partying at night with famous people from history.

Rachel McAdams is mostly wasted as Wilson's unsympathetic, shrill of a fiancée. Her role could have been played by anyone and its clear she was cast purely because Allen attracts top tier talent. Michael Sheen (The Queen) plays an absolutely great pompous academic professor. His blowhard know-it-all character is hilarious. We've all met this guy before.

Midnight in Paris is classic Woody Allen, that is, it's actually quite good. Most of the performances are charming and graceful no matter how small. The film delights in its own whimsy. Beautifully shot and composed, the cinematography frames the city well with all its charming characters and adventures.

With the ending, Allen makes a good point. Every artist longs and romanticizes to experience another era or golden age. Wilson's character adores the '20s as another artist in the '20s romanticizes the 1890s as those folks wish to be in the Renaissance and so on.

More than anything, Midnight in Paris is pure and simple plain fun. Owen Wilson shows his likability and everyman quality with good writing and direction by Allen. With all its literary references and romanticism, the film is a must see for literature and culture lovers.

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