Directed by Woody Allen
It’s no secret that Woody Allen’s track record has flopped over the past decade, with critics sharing a regretful sigh that maybe he’s just not up to it anymore. But then along comes his latest film, a light-hearted, frothy comedy with an acclaimed cast and his highest-grossing picture to date standing at £68.7m worldwide. Is this the longed for return to the glory days of the likes of Play it again, Sam and Annie Hall? Well, for a start there is his trademark protagonist of a semi-successful writer. Owen Wilson admirably steps up as a surrogate Woody Allen and plays the role of Gil, a disenchanted Hollywood screen writer and would-be novelist, who comes to Paris with his egoistical fiancée, Inez, (Rachel McAdams) and her wealthy parents. He swiftly becomes more enamoured with the city and during one of his solitary midnight walks meets a group of eccentric party-goers and is whisked away into a 1920s Bohemian Paris fantasy world. Surrounded by his idolised expat artists; including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein, Gil is inspired in his longing to be a novelist.
The film begins with a montage made up of picturesque tourist snapshots of Paris, like those of New York in the opening sequence of Manhattan, and we are thus introduced to the hazy, romantic cinematography of Darius Khondji . This beguiling vision of the city is the film’s focal point and Woody Allen finally seems to have hit the jackpot by playing upon American’s love of all things Parisian. Unfortunately the city backdrop might be the only redeeming feature of this somewhat flaccid movie.
Admittedly the plot is buoyed by a wry, satirical script in which the tense social-divides of the characters are played upon. There are some genuinely comic moments when Inez’s friend, an arrogant ‘pseudo-intellectual’ (as Gil labels him), disputes with a tour-guide about Rodin’s lovers and later lectures on wine-tasting. Likewise, the clash between dreamy artist Gil and his Tea Party supporting potential in-laws sees some wonderfully awkward scenes.
The thing is nothing much really happens. Instead we observe the characters endlessly talk about themselves to each other, which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if they were interesting characters, but they’re not. They provide comic social interactions but beyond their caricatures they have little depth. Likewise the string of historical artists appear as walking cut-outs, acting highly characteristic of themselves and spurting their most celebrated quotes. Fitzgerald is charming, Hemingway is intense, Picasso angry and Dali is just mad.
Ultimately, the crux of the problem with Midnight in Paris lies in the counteraction of two genres, realism and fantasy. This juxtaposition leaves an audience unsure of whether to appreciate the now expected subtleties of Woody Allen’s characterisation and dialogue, or to discredit all sense of realism and let ourselves embrace a topsy-turvy dream land. It’s kind of like ‘Moulin Rouge’ meets ‘Abigail’s Party’. Together neither is wholly satisfying.
In retrospect I realise I should have entered the cinema with a different attitude. If you alter your expectations from the start and recline yourself in preparation for a light-hearted, fun comedy it slips down easily like a glass of champagne; palatable and easy. Just don’t expect too much beneath the fizz.