Midnight in Paris is a very good light-hearted entry from director Woody Allen and starring Owen Wilson. The film begins with Wilson and his fiance, played by Rachel McAdams, visiting Paris. Wilson is a screenwriter struggling to write his first book. Wilson loves Paris and longs for the literary Paris of the past, and then his desire to live in the past comes true. One night, after he gets lost walking back to his hotel, he ends up back in the 1920s where he encounters F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, as well as other artists from that era. After the night’s adventure, he goes back to his hotel and the twenty-first century, but he plans to visit his friends from the 1920s again the next evening. What will he see and what will he learn from his trips to the romantic 1920s?
I realize different people have different feelings about films directed by Woody Allen. Some adore most or all of them while others are not fans, perhaps because they feel his life has tainted the films, as in a topic we discussed last week. Critics often like Allen’s films more than viewers, as shown by the current Rotten Tomatoes rating for Midnight in Paris (92% critics; 77% audience). By way of disclosure, I like most of Allen’s films; I love several of them; and there is one that I would probably list among my top twenty films of all time (Crimes and Misdemeanors).
While it is unfortunate that Allen’s films often have to compete with each other, it it is fair for viewers to consider how a new film ranks within Allen’s canon of films. Considering Midnight in Paris in that context, it is not his best work ever, but it is certainly very good. And, more fairly, considering the comedies usually released during the summer, it is more enjoyable and thoughtful than most of them. The lines are witty, the background is beautiful, the story is interesting, and the movie features fine acting from Wilson in “the Woody Allen role” as well as other actors in the ensemble like Kathy Bates and Marion Cotillard.
Since Allen has started making several films in cities outside New York, he has used the camera to make these other cities characters in his films the way he once made New York a character in films like Manhattan. And Midnight in Paris certainly makes one desire to walk the streets of Paris and live a rich lifestyle there, beginning with the opening several minutes devoted to various scenes around the city.
Another feature of Allen’s films is that he often addresses serious themes about life and death, and he does so in Midnight in Paris. For many years Allen has noted that he has been influenced by Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death, which is about how our fears affect the way we live. Some of those themes are touched on in this film, as are themes about nostalgia and longing for the past. The themes of nostalgia are reminiscent of Allen’s excellent movie The Purple Rose of Cairo. Although the resolution of these themes in Midnight in Paris is fairly predictable, one may not mind the ride because the journey is so scenic.
What is your favorite Woody Allen film? Leave a comment.
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