Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is steadily picking up nominations in the awards season, including a Best Ensemble Cast SAG nomination, and four at the Golden Globes. In all honesty, the warmth of this reception is in part down to the fact that Hollywood has never fallen out of love with Woody. He remains one of America’s most enduringly popular directors, despite that fact that he often turns out disappointing films. His back catalogue has earned him a lot of leeway.
It is also down to the high enjoyment factor of Midnight in Paris. To those that have not seen it, I highly recommend it, but to read any more of this article may ruin it for, as there is a central conceit which has to be revealed in order to discuss it. I would suggest that the film is seen before this is read.
Owen Wilson is Gil, a frustrated Hollywood hack who wants to be a writer like his heroes, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Finding himself in Paris with his beautiful but rather soulless fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents, he is nostalgic for the Paris of the roaring twenties and finds himself wandering the streets late at night. An old fashioned car pulls up by him at midnight, he climbs in and finds himself transported back to the twenty when he meets not just Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds, but also Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), Cole Porter, Picasso, Man Ray, Bunuel - the list goes on.
The number of jokes you get are generally proportionate to how much you know about the people and the era, but it is undoubtedly entertaining and utterly charming, the narrative being sufficiently engaging that even the uninitiated (and I would say that I myself am only acquainted with the era in patches) will enjoy themselves. Allen evokes the twenties perfectly if fantastically, making them a place of wine, music and bonhomie.
It is not just the “Fantasy Dinner Party” turned into a film, for as the incredible guest list of characters continue to appear, they are underpinned by Allen’s humour (which is firing on all cylinders) and great performances. Most notable are the young Tom Hiddleston who is brilliant as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Adrien Brody in an absolutely magnificent cameo as Salvador “Dali!” However, towering above them all is the irresistible Marion Cotillard as Adriana, a muse in this film severally for Picasso, Hemingway and, in the end, Gil. She is radiant on screen and utterly lovely, delivering the latest in a long string of simply beguiling performances.
Now, it is not a classic film. It is wrapped up in itself and sets about going for cerebral laughs and not much else, save for a dash of romance on the side. It is certainly not to everybody’s taste and could be seen as smug and pretentious. These criticisms are unfair. The fact that a little bit of knowledge aides the enjoyment of this film is not a mark against it, not least because it is a very accessible romantic comedy. This is a work of charm, not of snobbery.
The heart of Allen’s film is nostalgia, how attractive it is and how those who lived in an enviable time, envied other eras themselves. It is perhaps appropriate that this is the film which appears to have brought him fully back into the bosom of Hollywood. Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona hinted at the best of Woody, but Midnight in Paris has made them more than a little wistful.