I somehow missed out on reviewing Woody Allen's last two films, but in the interim I watched everything else he's directed, so I guess we're even. Luckily, though, I got to see Midnight In Paris - and it's brilliant.
With Woody Allen, it’s not so much a case any more of expecting a ‘return to form’, as seeing periodic glimpses of inspiration and genius.
Recently, his work has veered from the atrocious (Cassandra’s Dream) to the great (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), with a handful of tittersome morsels in between (Whatever Works, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger). He’s still working at an alarming rate, and is still quite happy to gaze at intellectual middle class types and their over-inflated personal problems.
However, by now he is so comfortable with these tropes - life crises, marital issues, creative anxiety - that they are mere motifs, or a form of narrative shorthand that he can embellish ever so slightly, marking out each new film with a different location, a rejigged cast or small genre touches.
Midnight In Paris, the latest in what could be called Allen’s ‘tourist’ films, makes no claim at being anything else, starting as it does with an endless montage of Parisian vistas, a ‘day in the life’ overture which roots the audience in the French capital - its boulevards, its landmarks, its cultural history.
Paris brings out the romantic in Allen, as was previously seen 15 years ago in the musical Everyone Says I Love You, in which he staged a languid, dreamy song-and-dance sequence alongside the Seine, featuring himself and a knockout Goldie Hawn. Here, once more, Paris is a city that devours and delights, as Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), an erstwhile Hollywood scriptwriter, comes to the city with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams). After years of hackdom, he wishes to write his first novel, but his neurotic self-flagellation gets in the way, especially when faced with the aggressively-intellectual braggart Paul (Michael Sheen).
Paris, though, is inspiring, and he can barely walk ten paces without excitedly cataloguing the city’s rich artistic heritage. "Imagine this town in the 20s!" he raves, as Inez rolls her eyes and shops for furniture, with her equally disapproving parents (Mimi Kennedy, Kurt Fuller). Soon, Gil’s alone, wandering the streets and dreaming of the past. At which point, a church bell strikes midnight, and a vintage car stops nearby, ready to whisk him away on a jazz age adventure.
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