Woody Allen returns to form with ‘Midnight in Paris’

Alex Williams

You never know what you’re going to get in to when you watch a Woody Allen film. Because of the director’s rigid film-a-year production schedule, some of his films come out desperately in need of a rewrite or two, and some come out just right. Thankfully, “Midnight in Paris” is one of the latter: a delightful, romantic film deeply infatuated with the city of Paris.

Allen’s comedies typically feature some sort of surrogate for Allen, an actor or actress who clearly displays the neuroses and personality of the filmmaker. In this film, we have Gil (Owen Wilson), a Hollywood screenwriter and struggling novelist who goes on a trip to Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams). Gil finds himself yearning for the Paris of the 1920s, where some of the most brilliant creative minds in history gathered to produce an endless list of classic works of art. After a night drunkenly roaming the city, reveling in his own discontent, a taxi pulls up next to Gil and whisks him away to his own Golden Age, where along the way he meets the irresistible muse Adriana (Marion Cotillard).

“Midnight in Paris” is by no means short on romantic elements, be it Gil’s rocky relationship with Inez or the white-hot connection he develops with Adriana. But the film’s true love story is between a man and a city, something evident from every frame of the film, which almost drowns Paris in fawning adoration. Allen makes the city look endlessly appealing, sending Gil on a tour of Paris’ most beautiful locales and casting his Golden Age as a creative nirvana, a perfect blend of minds bouncing off each other to create some truly timeless art.

Even while Allen perfectly captures the spirit of several distinct time periods, he has also made one of the best films he’s made in years. His script is concise and funny, and while the old-fashioned rhythms of Allen’s dialogue have eluded actors in many films, it fits perfectly with his 1920s setting. While a few scenes are too farcical for their own good and the film’s ending is entirely too neat, Allen is doing some of his best work since 2005’s “Match Point.”

As Allen’s representative in the film, Owen Wilson has perhaps the hardest job, but Wilson nails every note. His performance here is stripped of the unstoppable charisma and confidence that made him a star, replaced with a more lived-in charm, and his chemistry with Marion Cotillard is off the charts. As Gil’s mysterious and beautiful muse, Cotillard is easily the best part of the film. Allen makes great use of Cotillard’s vulnerable features and fragile disposition, and the easy rapport she and Wilson build lends to some of the film’s funniest exchanges and sweetest moments.

While Wilson and Cotillard stand out, the rest of the cast more than pulls their weight. Rachel McAdams tears into her unapologetically awful character with fervor, breathing energy and even a hint of heart into a one-note villainess. As F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill are hilarious together; especially the zesty Pill, who continues the trend she began in “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” of taking small supporting roles and making them indispensable. Corey Stoll’s brash Ernest Hemingway is similarly memorable, a strong showcase for an actor currently floundering on “Law and Order: LA.”

While “Midnight in Paris” is a film deeply in love with Paris, it makes sure to pointedly remind audiences how dangerous the pitfalls of nostalgia can be. It’s also a worthy addition to Allen’s extensive filmography, an elegant film drenched in Parisian romanticism and magical realism. While it will likely be largely forgotten at the end of the year, “Midnight in Paris” is a lovely little film, and one well worth your time.