Midnight in Paris (2011) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4) : A delightful fantasy strolling into old Paris

There are lots of details you may not notice while watching Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”(2011), a charming comedy which leisurely strolls around one of the most beautiful cities on the world with its paranormal premise to delight you. I had a fun with the movie while recognizing many famous figures from the era it depicts thanks to my knowledge about them, and I realized later there are more in the film while searching for the additional information on the web, and I found several things in the movie funnier than before during my second watching.

But you do not have to know a lot for enjoying “Midnight in Paris”, because the story itself is a very entertaining comedy besides being full of amusing details. Its laughs mainly come from the situation of the hero who happens to be placed between the two worlds, and the movie handles the following complications with lots of wits and intelligence. In addition, like it did in other films, Paris always looks gorgeous whether it is day or night – or whether it is the early 20th century or the early 21th century.

Though he has desired to be recognized as a novelist, our hero Gil(Owen Wilson) has been unhappily stuck in Hollywood as a fairly successful screenplay writer who usually writes for the movies he does not like much. He has his first novel, but it is still in progress, and he has not shown it to others yet because he is not that satisfied with the first draft while afraid of being criticized.

Like his novel, which is about a ‘nostalgia shop’ which sells the things from the past, Gil is nostalgic for the era gone into the past. While he is visiting Paris with his fiancé Inez(Rachel McAdams), who virtually has no interest in whatever he says, he yearns for the era when the literature figure like Ernest Hemingway walked along the streets of Paris. Gil feels like being at home while strolling around the streets and he even considers moving to Paris rather than living in California, but Inez and her rich parents prefer to live in US and they are mostly occupied with shopping and business matters, which are the main purpose of their visit. With such a difference like that, you may wonder how the hell Gil and Inez came to meet and then get engaged.

At one night, due to drinking wine a little too much, Gil chooses to walk alone for a while, and then he encounters something unbelievable happening right in front of his eyes. When he is having a short rest on the steps at some street, the church bell is chimed for midnight, and then an old-fashioned Peugeot comes along the street. He is invited into the car, and he soon finds himself invited to the party for Jean Cocteau in the 1920s. He can’t simply believe his eyes; Cole Porter himself is playing his own song at the party, and there is that famous couple of the Jazz age – F. Scott Fitzerald and his wife Zelda Fitzerald(Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill).

And there are a lot more famous people to enthrall Gill. Through Fitzerald, Gil meets none other than Ernest Hemingway(Corey Stoll), who always seems to be occupied with talking like a tough guy except when he is writing. And through Hemingway, Gil is introduced to Gertrude Stein(Kathy Bates), an American writer who was also a famous art collector and supporter. And through Stein, Gil gets not only the chance to meet the famous artists like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse but also the chance to get his novel reviewed by her – and he also encounters the model of one of Picasso’s works, a beautiful model named Adriana(Marion Cotillard).

While not delving too deeply into its unreal premise, the movie has a lot of fun with its fantasy world filled with such colorful historical figures like them. Every night, Gil goes to the same spot at the same time(naturally, his fiancé and her parents become pretty suspicious about his questionable night stroll), and then there is always a new surprise waiting for him in the world he adores. While becoming friendly with Hemingway and Stein, he also comes across Salvador Dali(Adrien Brody), Man Ray(Tom Cordier), and Luis Buñuel(Adrien de Van). This trio of surreal artists has no trouble at all in believing what Gil confides to them when he is conflicted about his private feelings, and there is a really amusing moment at their surrealistic party when Gil seeds one particular idea on Buñuel, which will later be developed into one of his great films.

It goes without saying that he is less colorful compared to his showy co-performers, but Owen Wilson imbues considerable sincerity to his performance as the emotional anchor of the story. Like any young aspiring writers, he just feels excited to meet his idols and happy to be accepted as one of their pals. Unlike the others in his world, his new friends show a genuine interest to his novel as literary fellows, and he gladly show it to them for the advices he desperately needs now.

The characters surrounding Gil are basically the caricatures based on what we heard about them through books, but they are entertaining to watch. Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill have a little poignancy in their broad performances as a man and a woman in ill-fated love, and Kathy Bates leaves a strong impression as Gertrude Stein, who is a wise, generous lady with no-nonsense attitude. Marion Cotillard is lovely as a woman who gets closer to Gil after her relationships with (in chronological order) Modigliani, Braque, Picasso, and Hemingway. Gil and Adriana later find some common ground between them, and that leads to another strange incident which is also left unexplained just like Gil’s own time slip.

Woody Allen deservedly won his third Best screenplay Oscar for “Midnight in Paris” early in this year(it is his 15th nomination – how impressive it is!). Maybe the era when he gave us the movies like “Annie Hall”(1977) or “Hannah and Her Sisters”(1986) is gone and that time will never come back, but Mr. Allen has been moving on while making Woody Allen films as usual and it is always nice to expect a new movie from him every one or two years. “Midnight in Paris” may not be Woody Allen’s best film, but it is good to see that one of the great American director remains as one of the wittiest writers in the world.

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