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Midnight in Paris (2011)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

As is Woody Allen’s tendency with his films, the delightful Midnight in Paris is definitely about something. This time it’s nostalgia. Also like many of his films, which lean heavily toward having characters tell you what the film is about, so does this one — but somehow, it doesn’t come off as overbearing as usual. And that is a very good thing. Midnight in Paris cleverly explores some very good questions. And, okay, it does go ahead and answer the questions, but it does so in such a fun and insightful way that it’s quite good nonetheless.

Gil, a dreamy and successful Hollywood writer (a “hack,” he calls himself), accompanies his fiancĂ©e, Inez, and her parents to Paris. They can’t understand why Gil would risk his Hollywood work trying to make a jump to writing novels — he want to write the literarily serious type of novel. In the first novel he is writing, he sets his dreamy focus on the 1920s, and being in Paris sets his dreaminess off all the more. Tensions mount as Gil and Inez differ on whether to move to Paris (she prefers Malibu), Inez’s old (and insufferable) boyfriend shows up, and Gil finds inspiration in late night walks through Paris. Running time: 94 min.

Midnight in Paris has a unique way of exploring nostalgia — actually it explores nostalgia in multiple ways through dialog, setting, fantasy, relationships, and dreams of the heart. In doing so, it treads in issues of trust and faithfulness, integrity and authenticity, and pursuing life through art or pragmatism. We must work to live (most of us, anyway), but when does a stable job become a safe haven from the risk of living a dream? From the fear of not living a life of luxury? Do we notice when we’ve become enamored of fashion or taken in by suave shallowness? How do we let dreams of “the good life” take us away from living fully and joyfully in the here and now? This is the sort of territory that Midnight in Paris craftily explores.

Against his tendency to over-explain in his films, Woody Allen does fairly well in Midnight. It does, at least once, use dialog to directly tell us what the film’s primary exploration is, but this is brief and it is countered by plenty of onscreen “playing it out” so we can live through the exploration ourselves. From other angles, the filmcraft is good. In playing the lead character, Owen Wilson strikes a good mix of sincerity, confusion, and wonderment. Several supporting roles are played very well. The overall tone and pace of the film foster just the right mood for engaging with its material.

Midnight in Paris is most definitely worth the time, and for a broad range of viewers. On the surface, it is just plain fun. Below the surface, it can leave you with images that stick as icons of living a better you. And, if you are quite familiar with Paris, you will enjoy looking for places that you know.

The film has multiple instances of sexual innuendo, discussion, and revealing clothing. A small bit of language.

  • Director: Woody Allen
  • Screenplay: Woody Allen
  • Leads: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates
  • Cinematography: Johanne Debas, Darius Khondji
  • Music: Stephane Wrembel

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