Midnight in Paris (2011)
After having camera-masturbated his way through a romanticised Barcelona and all the beautiful actresses he could lure out there in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (and then making a couple of other films in the meantime), Woody Allen turns his focus to another European city which Americans hold in high esteem: Paris. Here we meet a vacationing semi-dysfunctional young couple named Gil and Inez who on the surface share an interest in art, writing and culture, but who most evidently are not on the same wavelength. The superficial Inez (Rachel McAdams) starts attending an endless array of clubs, museums and galleries with her friends Paul and Carol, while the neurotic, talkative Gil (played by Owen Wilson acting as Allen's hand puppet) begins to wander the streets of Paris, with a nostalgia for the history of the city. Then one midnight, he is picked up by a vintage car which effectively transfers him back to the 1920s, a time when artists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Ernest Hemingway frequented the bars and streets of Paris.
Like all of Woody Allen's films, Midnight in Paris is lightweight and quirky – and populated with some recurring characters whom some may still find funny and fascinating, but whom others may have wearied of by now. Still, and in stark contrast to Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen this time has both a good idea and something to say again; that is, something besides his ordinary comments about art, high-culture and love. And when he does, Allen still has the skill both as a director and as a writer to attract interest and make poignant observations. The main such in this film concerns nostalgia and romanticising; the counterproductiveness of it, but all the same our inclination for it.
Allen's best achievement with Midnight in Paris is how vividly and vibrantly he recreates a period of time and a set of cultural celebrities from this period who obviously has meant a lot to the filmmaker. The performers in these roles, including a dashing Corey Stoll as Hemingway, a vigorous Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, and a hilarious Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí, obviously had much fun acting out these personalities, and although Allen's intellectual message is that we should free ourselves from backward thinking and make the most out of the present, the film's heart and soul lies in the past, as Allen's rendition of present-day people and art is as uninspired as Gil's relationship with Inez. But who can really blame him? Woody just turned 75, and he's entitled to reminisce about a fine career and a life well lived – whether that be his or Hemingway's.