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Midnight in Paris

Other than the movie poster with Owen Wilson strolling underneath Van Gogh’s Starry Night, I knew nothing about Midnight in Paris. I wanted it stay that way—go in blind, and let it gobsmack me into euphoria. Spoiler Alert: Owen Wilson is Gil, a disenchanted Hollywood screenwriter who wants to write real literature like that by Hemingway, who takes a vacation with his girlfriend Inez (Rachael McAdams) and her parents in Paris. Gil has a very different perception of Paris—nostalgic and artistic. Gil rather takes walks at night while his girlfriend go out to parties with her friends. Like many a writer or artist, Gil has longed to travel back in time to the sizzling Paris of the 1920s. Hemingway, in his memoir, A Moveable Feast, writes: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” Edmund White in his memoir says Paris is a city meant to be seen by a flâneur—an aimless stroller getting lost in the city’s enfolds. Gil is the lucky flâneur who is living a highly unusual but moveable feast.

One night when the church bell chimes midnight, a vintage car drives past (on a slightly curved street that reminds me of Rue Bonaparte in the 6th Arrondissement), and Gil hops in the back. He’s taken to an elegant soiree, where he meets a couple (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill) who introduce themselves as Scott and Zelda. He notes that is a coincidence. But coincidence doesn’t end at the party, where he hears Cole Porter crooning “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).” He gets writing advice from a laconic (and sarcastic) Hemingway (Corey Stoll), persuades Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) to read the manuscript of his novel—a story about a nostalgia shop owner, and falls in love with Picasso’s mistress (Marion Cotillard). Adriana’s sighing dissatisfaction with her own era mirrors Gil’s, despite the anachronism. Back in the daylight world of 21st-century Paris, he must contend with a materialistic fiancée and her moneyed parents. Gil wants to live in the past—1920s Paris—as much as Adriana wants to leave it. *End of Spoiler*

The movie sometimes assumes viewers know the details of these luminous lives as well as Paris’s history, so it may be helpful to understand some of the complicated relationships that made Paris in that era both a dream and often something less. That said, Paris is perpetually alive, not because it houses the ghosts of the famous dead but because it is the repository and setting of so much of their work—which is what Gil eventually realizes. There’s not much depth to Allen’s time-travel conceit, though the way he develops the premise yields a lot of laughs. Particularly, from Stoll’s brusque portrayal of Hemingway to a surreal conversation with Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody), Luis Buñuel (Adrien de Van) and Man Ray (Tom Cordier). Allen also cast the French First Lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, as a tourist guide. The movie really shows a Paris that is special, timeless, and romantic. Midnight in Paris opens with a three-plus minute montage of Paris scenery set to 1940’s French jazz clarinetest Sidney Bechet’s “Su Ti Vois Ma Mere.” The scenes in Montmartre, St. Germain de Pres, and Shakespeare & Co. just make me nostalgic of the City of Light.

9 Responses

  1. I loved this film, and I too had no idea what it was really “about” until I was in the theater viewing it. I appreciate the message that nostalgia is not necessarily what we remember, but what we would like to remember had we been there to experience it. In other words, nostalgia is always a fantasy. I also loved the warm, amber color of much of the Paris scenery, almost like a faded photograph. It’s a lovely film.

  2. I’ve heard such great things, so I didn’t read the spoiler part. Have got to add this to my Netflix queue.

  3. Honestly, I thought this was just another rom-com, but after seeing some reviews it seems that it’s not. This summer has been filled with crap movies, so this one is calling out…

  4. The scenery was the only thing I enjoyed about this film. Okay, the music, and the French leading lady. Other than that I was so very disappointed. I found Gil an almost exact representation of Woody Allen, whom I like as himself, not impersonated. I also found his fiance and her parents superficial beyond compare. I just couldn’t deal with all the trite this movie had, when there was so much promise to be great.

  5. I have to see this movie. Thanks for the review. I love that poster.

  6. I’ve heard SUCH good things about this movie…now we actually have to get ourselves TO a theater…

  7. I really didn’t like it…but I think it was mostly for the fact of Owen Wilson being cast as the lead. It just didn’t suit him, I could not imagine him as a would-be novelist. Also, the 1920’s (in London and Paris) are my obsession and if I were ever to make a movie, it would be on this subject, so I think my expectations were let down. I really wanted to like it, and I loved the idea of it but it regrettably left a sour taste in my mouth.

  8. Loved your review of this film. It makes me realize just how much I need to see it, because it sounds like my cup of tea. Love the idea of Wilson’s character meeting all of these writers and artists and finding the magic of Paris!

  9. […] to wander without adhering to an agenda. Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, resonated by the film Midnight in Paris also put Paris in a literary perspective for me. Share […]

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