Midnight In Paris (2011)

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A Woody Allen movie rated G? Yes, and maybe only in B.C. where I saw it in Vancouver yesterday. If you’re offering charming characters, lively performance from some talented actors, Woody Allen’s own clever screenplay inundated with witty dialogues, and have him direct in the backdrop of dreamlike Paris, the result is pure delight. You don’t need too much of anything extra, hence the MPAA PG-13 rating. And maybe because of that, clean and crisp, this is one of the Woody Allen movies I enjoy most for some years. And yes, this is the one with French first lady Carla Bruni in it, where Allen has to direct under the watchful eyes of the French President and his security personnel.

Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) are engaged to be married. They take a trip to Paris with Inez’s parents John (Kurt Fuller) and Helen (Mimi Kennedy) for John’s business merger. While Gil and Inez first appear to be a romantic pair, we soon find them to be incompatible. Gil is an underachieved screenwriter from California, aiming to write his first novel. His dream of Paris is one of the golden age, nostalgically inhabited by the modernists, the artists and literati of the 1920’s.

However, his fiancé Inez fails to see his aspiration or potential, and the imagination that the cultural city can unleash in him. Rather, she falls for their American friend Paul (Michael Sheen), the intellectual snob whose self-importance drives him to snub Gil and even counter their museum guide (Carla Bruni) in the accuracy of her information. But Gil is more preoccupied with his midnight encounters, which ultimately transform him and change their individual paths. These experiences after midnight are just wonderful surprises for Gil, and me. Without giving too much of a spoiler, let’s just say it’s Woody Allen’s version of ‘Back to the Future’.

When I first saw the trailer, I had reservation about Owen Wilson being the leading man in a Woody Allen movie set in Paris. Would that be a miscast? Well, I’m proven wrong the moment he appears on screen. Wilson embodies the unassuming and delusional Gil, screenwriter from Pasadena, CA. He casts all of his previous film roles out of my mind and replaces with only this one of the moment, offering a performance that is impressively convincing. He leads a cast of wonderful actors, including the charming Marion Cotillard, veteran Kathy Bates, the versatile Michael Sheen, and a very dramatic Adrien Brody. And I won’t give away who is supposed to be who, I’ll leave that joy of discovery for you.

This is a movie for art and literature lovers, ideal for book bloggers and discussion groups. Allen has cleverly juxtaposed the modernists in the turn of the 20th century with their contemporary admirer Gil. We encounter all these iconic figures in the film: Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, T.S. Eliot and more… it’s so much fun to hear allusion to their works, and some of them utter lines that are their own but in the style and wit of Woody Allen’s.

What makes the movie gratifying of course is not just the visuals, people and places, but how the story leads. The twist towards the end is the pivotal revelation for Gil. While one can bask in nostalgia, one needs to embrace the present in order to fully live. As I watched the movie, I wanted to read the script and capture Allen’s ingenuity. As I left the theatre, I wanted to see it again.

~~~1/2 Ripples

To read my review of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast CLICK HERE.

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

32 thoughts on “Midnight In Paris (2011)”

  1. We saw it last night. I was skeptical at first, wondering how Allen would present these characters who have captured our literary imagination so profoundly, and not cast them as comic book versions of themselves? I just surrendered to it, though, and it’s a good thing. I ended up loving it. When the theme was revealed in the scene with Toulouse-Lautrec in the other room, it felt so true and wonderfully deep, that I was glad indeed to have seen it. Paris is a piece of art, as Gil says, and exploring it authentically, just like all of life, is what we should be about. The flea market at Clingancourt is a wonderful context for what has happened, with what were once flea-bitten street stalls, turned posh and extravagantly-priced marketplace for rich snobs, but where Gil can find a vintage Cole Porter album. It’s about authenticity.

    I wrote a long review of it to a friend, maybe I’ll send it to you. 🙂

    Like

    1. Ruth,

      I’d love to read your review! Your blog Paris Deconstructed comes to mind. The comment above is only the beginning of your sharing. I’m curious to know your personal response to the other parts of the film.

      I went to see the movie with no knowledge of the plot, and I purposely did not read any reviews before I saw it myself… except watching the trailer. So the whole thing was a pleasant surprise. And I thought, of course this has to come from Woody Allen… but, why did it take him so long to come out with something like this!? And Owen Wilson, another surprise. He nailed the role… amiable, convincing, and the ending is gratifying. There are so many memorable lines, I must get hold of the script.

      I’ve appreciated what you said in your comment: “It’s about authenticity.” How true. I’d like to add too, it’s also about sincerity. I just wonder whether there’s any autobiographical elements in the film… the rich parallels, whether they are not part of real life for the writer/director. The Toulouse-Lautrec scene is ingenious, and that’s what makes the movie so gratifying: not just beauty, humor, and intellect, but meaning as well.

      Like

  2. When I was in Paris last month a friend had seen this movie but when I returned to Atlanta and checked it was not being played in theatres around here. After reading your post I looked again and it is now playing, so I’ll go and see it next week. I don’t like to see movies about Paris usually because I get too homesick, but I was just there. About the flea market in Clignancourt – we went there and I bought some French pocket books at 2 euros, which is good, and also a small suitcase (new) – there is a good store, before you get to the market, owned by Oriental people and their prices are inexpensive.

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    1. Vagabonde,

      Thanks for the shopping tips! 😉 I was in Paris last summer, but didn’t have the chance to visit the flea market in Clignancourt. But I did go to some places that are in the film… Shakespeare and Co., the used book stalls along the Seine. There are some that I’d love to visit the next time I’m there, the pond with the water lilies in Monet’s painting, and of course, the Clignancourt flea market. I’m sure you’ll love to see it on screen as the setting of a clever and witty screenplay. I’d love to hear your opinion after you’ve seen the movie. Do come back and share with us your response.

      Like

    2. We found some bargains at Les Puces too. I bought a 200-year-old clock for my husband (no clock works, just the body), for 200 euros, which I thought was good. I also bought piles of vintage fabric for our daughter, who was a fibers minor in art school. I bought a big round cutting board with a handle, which I carried back to our Paris apartment on the metro, feeling like it was a weapon. 😉 It’s fun just to walk around at the flea market.

      Arti, I recognized Le Grand Vefour as the first restaurant scene, where I’ve eaten twice, though once in a lifetime would be enough. Maybe it’s time to round up those memories for one of the blogs. I kind of like the idea of posting the movie review at Paris Deconstructed. I’ll send you my little write-up, but one thing in it I’ll say here is that what would be a once in a lifetime experience for most of us, eating at a Michelin 3 star restaurant, Inez’s family turned into an obligatory litany of every-evening dinners, thereby killing their significance.

      And yes, the movie’s message is also about being sincere.

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      Ruth,

      Sometimes too much of a good thing… even art (including culinary, and other luxuries) can be turned into a cliché, especially for those who take it for granted… this might well be WA’s commentary too.

      Yes, I think your Paris Deconstructed would be a good forum for your review and the sharing of opinions.

      As for the flea market, that definitely will be on my must-see list next time.

      Arti

      Like

  3. Like you, when I first heard of Owen Wilson being cast I thought, “What?” But, I trust your judgement implicitly, and I can see how he can carry off that unassuming kind of guy. This movie sounds absolutely wonderful! There’s a lot going on in French interest right now, with Matt of A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook going at the end of the month, and Tamara and Bookbath’s Paris in July so I’ll definitely be ‘tweeting’ your post. Me, on Twitter…unbelievable. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this film, and as I said in response to your comment on my blog, I wish we could go to movies together.

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    Bellezza,

    Thanks for the tweet! And yes, we all should get together one day and do just that, watch movies and chat about books. If I can get hold of a copy of A Moveable Feast, I just might join you in reading and sharing… oh, just too little time.

    Arti

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  4. I haven’t ever really fallen in love with Woody Allen films, but when I read about this one recently it looked like one that I couldn’t help but see. Glad to hear such a good review. I’ll be adding this to my list of films to see.

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    Carl,

    Welcome! I really like WA’s earlier works, but not those in recent years. This one just might bring back ex-WA fans to the fold. Hope you’ll come back and tell us what you think after seeing it.

    Arti

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  5. Woody Allen. PARIS!!! The Lost Generation. Oh, this is my kind of movie; I won’t recognize any of the scenery, but it sounds like a great watch. I’ll just sit there and drool and see if my picks for who plays whom pan out…

    When it appears on DVD. Sigh…

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    ds,

    But why wait? Yes, I know it’s your kind of movie, and I’m sure you’d enjoy it more on the big screen. I can’t wait to hear your take. 😉

    Arti

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  6. This might seem a strange question, but I’m wondering if this is a movie that could be enjoyed by someone who can’t say, “When last I was in Paris…?” From the discussion, it almost sounds as though experience of Paris is necessary to appreciate the film. I find myself being tempted by the thought that this is one of “those” films, a film filled with allusions and references understandable only to the cognoscenti – people with knowledge of the city, its history and its arts.

    It’s a rather different incarnation of the old text-and-context question. After reading your review and the discussion, I don’t feel I wouldn’t enjoy the film, I feel that I couldn’t enjoy the film – that I’m not adequately equipped to appreciate it.

    Now, clearly that isn’t so. But the experience of feeling it might be so is a powerful reminder of the ways in which unconscious forces can shape our reception of art. I’m finding myself more and more interested in the issue, and I’m delighted that your review gave me a visceral experience to ponder!

    Like

    1. Linda,

      Glad you’ve brought this up… I’ve been thinking about this too, and trying to organize some sort of a reply. This is one of Woody Allen’s few films with a setting other than NYC. With his earlier films, you don’t need to be a New Yorker to appreciate them… the characters and dialogues are the main draw. I’d say this one is his tribute to the beautiful city of Paris, with that, anybody can appreciate the scenic sights and icons. Of course it’s deeper than that. But you don’t need to have any “Parisian experience” to enjoy the thematic elements and the layered significance. Further, the allusions are not so much about the city, but the American expats gathered there during the 1920’s and the artists of that time.

      But Linda, I’m sure you’re well equipped to appreciate it. I know some lines I have missed the meaning of the subtext, but so what? I don’t need to know everything about these literati and artists and their works to enjoy it… I’ll smile and laugh a bit more if I know more, but, I’ve had my share of delight. A good movie is like that, it’s a vehicle taking you for a joy ride. You’ll absorb and marvel as you go along. And this is one interesting ride with intriguing views. After all, I feel the clearly conveyed thematic elements over-ride any ambiguity. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the discovery.

      Like

    2. Knowing Paris helps enjoy the film visually, but what really matters is having been exposed to some of the wonderful art that came out of that period. After seeing the film in Washington, DC, I had the urge to read again Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’. So I went across the street, bought another copy, and read it avidly – accompanied by steak frites and a glass of Cotes du Rhone. DC (lovely as it can be) is not Paris, and it has been half a century since I first read Hemingway, but it all came together again.

      Like

      1. Bjorn,

        Welcome! You’re right about having some knowledge of the art and literati of that period will help in the appreciation of the film. After viewing it, I too got hold of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and enjoyed it a lot… And I think Woody Allen has done a marvellous job in ‘transposing’ visually the zeitgeist of Hemingway’s memoir and the era for us. You may like to read my review post on the book.

        Like

  7. Arti, I had gone off Woody Allen films – although enjoyed ‘Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona’ – and hadn’t intended to see this one, but your wonderful review has changed my mind. It’s always a pleasure to read you!

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    Deborah,

    I admit all the WA films I enjoy most are from his earlier period. As for his more recent works, I’d prefer “You’ll Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” to “Vicky, C. B.” But this one “Midnight in Paris”, definitely surpasses them all. Curious about your take on it as a French resident.

    Arti

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  8. I’m a Woody Allen fan (Bullets Over Broadway being my personal favourite) and this sounds a delight. I’ll definitely be renting it as soon as it’s available. I had no idea he had a new film out, so I’m so pleased to have read your lovely review.

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    litlove,

    You know, I missed that one… I must get a hold of it since it’s your personal fave. I love watching them on the big screen and then watch the DVD again for the special features, esp. the making of. Midnight In Paris actually was the film that kicked off this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

    Arti

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  9. Don’t you think Owen Wilson looks like Woody Allen in a glance on the poster? I thought it was him when I saw the small poster a while ago. I’ve been eyeing this film so I will surely watch it soon or later and it sounds really good from your review. At the moment I’m going through Allen’s backlist of movies (recently watched Annie Hall and going to watch Manhattan soon). I got to know him quite late (watched Vicky Cristina Barcelona long ago but didn’t realize it was his movie).

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    meexia,

    You’re so right… I’ve read that the character Owen Wilson portrayed is Woody Allen’s alter ego, Gil mirrors WA’s own psyche. It’s interesting though that he’d cast Owen Wilson. Mind you, OW is excellent in his role, but I’m just curious to know how in the first place did WA think of getting OW to play ‘himself’. And yes, it’s a great time to watch WA’s earlier works, just for a comparison, and context. While “Annie Hall”, “Manhattan”, and “Hannah and her Sisters” are maybe most loved, there’s an odd one that I found just hilarious and brilliant, and it’s “Zelig” (1983). See if you like it.

    Arti

    Like

    1. Oh thanks for the rec! I’ve added Zelig to my watch list (and Midnight in Paris of course). Yea I wouldn’t have thought that OW could be a good cast for WA movie/alter ego. So weird that it works. I guess he’s a better actor than what people give him credit for.

      I just watched Manhattan and loved it, a lot more than Annie Hall for some reason. Funny to see Diane Keaton played in both. They’re like one of those screen couples that always play together, huh? (though later seems to change to Mia Farrow)

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      Mee,

      Zelig is quite a unique film… I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. And yes, I’d love to hear from you again after you’ve watched Midnight In Paris!

      Arti

      Like

  10. Hi, Arti,

    Back from the dark (and light!) beyond and catching up. I’m so glad this post greeted me this morning! I’ve been seeing the promos on TV and been apprehensive. I wanted to see it because it’s Paris, eye candy, no matter what — yet there is always something so disappointing about seeing a place you love in a film and it could have been anywhere. And the Owen Wilson thing had me concerned, too! Now I think I can venture forth with confidence! It sounds like my kind of film (and I am indeed a Woody fan, so that just adds to it!

    I’m enjoying the comments on peoples’ experiences there and am “taking notes” for next spring. I went to a different marches aux puces — Vanves — which was a gold mine in treasures that were relatively inexpensive. It is smaller, I’m told, and that might have been just the thing! I didn’t get so overwhelmed. I’ll try Clingancourt next time!

    Good to be back with you!

    Like

    1. Jeanie,

      This film is not ‘anywhere’ or just uses Paris as a backdrop, but specifically referring to the 1920’s Paris and the American expat literati and artists. So do venture out, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the plunge. And yes, lots to take notes from esp. shopping tips here in the comments. 😉

      Arti

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  11. I’m not a Woody Allen fan but enjoyed the movie anyway. Especially the famous artistic and and literary characters. What really got me was the suggestion that Owen Wilson’s character Gil made to Lautrec to try in one of his paintings. I have no idea which painting he’s referring to and it was cute to see Lautrec wondering why he would even do such a painting.

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    Darlene,

    Welcome! Yes, there’s that one and also Gil’s suggestion to Luis Buñuel of film ideas. I must watch it again to capture more of the subtext and humor. Thanks for visiting and leaving your comment… hope to hear from you again!

    Arti

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  12. I’m not generally much of a Woody Allen fan, all those neuroses aren’t that funny to me after awhile. But I’ve had my eye on this one and I am glad to hear it is good.

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    Stefanie,

    Woody Allen has found a delightful alter ego in Owen Wilson… I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one.

    Arti

    Like

  13. Arti,

    So glad to have read this review after reading the dismal one in the local paper. Today my husband and I’ll go see for ourselves — I’m so ready to see a good ‘art’ film — and my husband, if truth be told, will attend solely out of love for a wife who longs to see a good ‘art’ film. And perhaps the good popcorn.

    Sort of off track, but I finally had to order “Nowhere Boy” because it never made it here to OKC, at least with my notice. Had it not been for you and your review, I fear I would never know of it.

    Makes me wonder how much of life we miss without knowing it!

    Janell

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    Janell,

    You’ve seen those parts of life that I’ll never experience… that’s the benefits of us meeting in the blogosphere. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one… and maybe your husband will too. It’s not so ‘artsy’ a film but a breezy romantic comedy. With the popcorn, he might be glad to have accompanied you. 😉

    Arti

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  14. Oh, I didn’t want to leave the theatre! From the first shot, when I gasped (causing Rick to turn his head!) to the very last frame of the credits, I was enchanted. And in re-reading the comments, yes — it all came together in the Toulouse Lautrec scene with such divine purity. What could have felt breezy and romantic and fun also hit a bit of a wallop in the best way!

    Linda mentioned wondering if she could get it not knowing Paris, and I think the answer is yes. Woody could have made this in New York, flipping back to the 1920s or ’30s or any of it’s glory-day periods before or after, with America’s literary glitterati — the Algonquin group, the Broadway folk, so many more. That he chose to set it in Paris, City of Light, at Midnight was, to me, his love letter to this place. He’s written his own love letters to New York, but a new passion, perhaps? It felt like going home, following him on all his walks. And really, what I’d like most right now is to turn right around, go back to the theatre, and see it all over again!

    Like

    1. Jeanie,

      So glad and not surprised that you were enchanted and thrilled. One thing I need to note too, is that it’s not just ‘anywhere’ type of setting or that Woody Allen is just selling Paris’s scenery and icons. I think he has effectively brought out the mood of the American expat and other nation’s expat literati and artists converging there at that point of time and in that locale. They represent a particular psyche and longing. Gil’s passion for an ideal place, a foreign land, a literati utopia, represents a universal longing and common dream. Midnight in Paris could well be our own fantasy visualized in a charming, delightful, and humorous way. It brings us to the surreal and then sets us back down so we can be more firmly grounded in our own reality. Its setting may be particular, its resonance is far reaching and deep. And, what a fun thing it is to see surrealism captured in Woody Allen style.

      Like

      1. Perfect! I see exactly what you mean! I had wanted to see this before reading your take, but this was the deal-breaker! And I did email Ruth — her review is terrific and spot on!

        Like

  15. I finally saw the movie, yesterday as a matter of fact. I’m so glad that I read A Moveable Feast before seeing it as it was so great to place Hemingway and his contemporaries in my mind while watching them on the screen. So to speak.

    Here are my thoughts, which I’m afraid differ from yours: a.) I do agree that Owen did a remarkable job, thankfully deviating from the goofball he normally plays. However, he screamed Woody Allen to me. While I enjoy Woody Allen’s sense of humour, Owen even had his mannerisms, his phrases, everything. It was a little weird. b.) I thought time travel back to the 20s, and “la belle epoch” was a strange way to visit the writers and artists of Paris. I get that we had to revisit them, maybe I just would have liked to see them in ‘real time’. c.) My favorite part, hands down, was the beautiful scenery. I just loved the setting, the streets of Paris, all the familiar venues down which I’ve walked several times. There is no city quite like her.

    So, while I’m glad I saw the film, while there were many parts I enjoyed, sadly I didn’t love it. I guess I’m more of a fiction person, than a film. We can still be friends, right? XO

    Like

    1. Bellezza,

      Well, what are friends for if not to honestly disagree and share different views!? I appreciate your candid comment, while sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. I went back to see it a couple more times, and enjoyed it more each time!

      I think I’m more impressed with the thematic matter rather than being captivated by the scenery, albeit they’re lovely. It’s the Toulouse Lautrec scene when Adrianna longs to stay behind that gets me thinking: “Of course!” We all long for the “good old days”, the “golden age”, and it’s just ironic that the geniuses and talented back then had similar sentiments. It’s by appreciating the present and working hard on what one is passionate about that a future can be made. A changed and wiser Gil is the gratifying end.

      As for Owen Wilson mirroring the screenwriter/director? That might just be the intention. The film could well be the autobiographical sketch of the auteur himself.

      Again, thanks for coming back and sharing with us your view, Bellezza, my friend! 😉

      Like

  16. And now I come back to you! We finally saw this film last night – its opening night here. I heard a review on our ABC (our equivalent of the BBC) radio station this morning. One of the reviewers loved it, using terms like whimsy, while the other liked it but was disappointed in its lack of depth. I agreed with the first reviewer. I thought this was the older Woody … the calmer, more mature, less angsty Woody. I liked the (albeit) light discussion of nostalgia (made me think of books/films like High fidelity, though very different to that too) and that belief some people have that things were always better in the past. I loved the Belle Epoch people who looked back to the Renaissance. And I loved the golden colours used for Paris, particularly in the early scenes, subtly suggesting “the golden age”. A thoroughly enjoyable movie.

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    whisperinggums,

    Yes, that’s a nice twist, isn’t it… even Lautrec Toulouse had to succumb to the lure of nostalgia. I love all the twists and turns in the movie, and you’re right that it’s certainly more refreshing than recent WA movies.

    Arti

    Like

  17. Thanks for your review, Arti. (I’m glad you mentioned how well Owen Wilson pulls off his role, because when I first saw his name, I wasn’t so sure he’d be right for this.) Sounds like a lovely, must-see movie! 🙂

    .
    Yes, go for it Shari. And you’ll never know, it might just be the black horse in the Oscar race.

    Arti

    Like

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