In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, neurotic Hollywood screenwriter Gil goes on vacation to Paris with his shrill fiancée and discovers that he can travel back to 1920s Paris every tender night at midnight, where he meets Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds and Gertrude Stein and a beautiful magic pixie dream girl played by Marion Cotillard.
Gil Pender’s (Owen Wilson) modern-day life is what you would expect of the nebbish hero of a Woody Allen film: he is stammering, discontent, and measures out his life in antibiotic prescriptions. As he strains to re-revise his 400-page novel, he also struggles with managing his shrewish finacee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her jingoistic parents. It’s no surprise he longs to return to the other side of Paris: the “golden age” of the Lost Generation.
It’s also no surprise that, upon magically—and inexplicably—time-traveling to Paris in the 1920s, he meets all of his beautiful and damned idols. After all, Paris was the hot spot for the writers, artists, musicians, and hangers-on during the interwar years. This is a film designed for those of us who went through a Lost Generation phase: it is one adorable and spot-on caricature after another, and watching recognizable actors such as Tom Hiddleston play recognizable luminaries such as Fitzgerald is most of the fun.
The stand-out of the bunch is Corey Stoll’s Ernest Hemingway, who speaks just like he writes, with a monosyllabic masculine grace and an obsession with bravery and truth. I compiled a bunch of his dialogue, but on the page it just looks like any ol’ Hemingway; the humor comes in hearing it delivered in Stoll’s droll monotone and steely glare. As I just recently finished the first season of House of Cards, which features Stoll in a very different role, I enjoyed his performance all the more.
The lesson Gil must learn, of course, is that each person feels lost in their generation; midnight may bring magic in Paris, but the sun does eventually rise. We all long for a golden age, but we must create the life we want to live rather than accepting the life we’ve fallen into. Marion Cotillard’s Adriana helps Gil learn this lesson, but with enough panache (on both Cotillard’s part and on Allen’s) that she becomes a full-fledged character of her own who does more than help Gil find his way as a man out of step with his life.
The whimsical tone is what makes this heart-warming story of a neurotic who finds happiness so appealing. After all, how can you not love a film that contains this perfect scene, in which a group of Surrealists help Gil work through his issues?
Man Ray: A man in love with a woman from a different era. I see a photograph!
Luis Buñuel: I see a film!
Gil: I see an insurmountable problem!
Salvador Dalí: I see a rhinoceros!
We’ve all seen Woody Allen movies and typically know what to expect, but Midnight in Paris has a quirkiness reminiscent of one of his other great homages to literature, the 1977 Love and Death. Although not for everybody, Midnight in Paris is a heartwarming comedy for those of us who delight the prospect of joining, however briefly, the moveable feast of literary nostalgia.