Walkin’ After Midnight
By Carl Kozlowski
Director Woody Allen has a new lover, only this time she’s the star and he’s the one basking in her glow. Who might that be? None other than the City of Lights, which Allen lovingly reveals in all her sensuous detail in his new film, Midnight in Paris.
Allen’s best films have been about interesting people absorbed by their human frailties. This time around, however, he lets the backdrop take center stage. The actors move in and out as needed to showcase the beauty, art and mystique of Paris.
In this story, Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), have tagged along with Inez’ rich parents, John (Kurt Fuller) and Helen (Mimi Kennedy), as they travel to Paris on a business trip. Inez and family are enjoying the good life—eating, shopping, leisurely drives in the country. Gil would rather take in the Paris art scene in hopes of finding inspiration for his new novel, an idea Inez views with blunt skepticism.
One day, as they’re eating in a restaurant, Inez runs into friends Paul (Michael Sheen) and Carol (Nina Arianda). Paul is a pompous intellectual who gets under Gil’s skin. Inez, however, finds him charming. When they invite Gil and Inez to go dancing after a wine party, Inez says yes, but Gil declines and takes a late-night walk. Inez warns him he’ll get lost. He does.
While sitting on a step trying to find his way back to the hotel, a bell rings in a tower and an old taxi shows up with F. Scott Fitzgerald and friends. Gil gets in and is blown away by an entourage of famous Parisian artists, writers and musicians from the 1920s.
From that point on, he comes back to the same doorway each night and gets picked up by the same taxi, and every night he makes the rounds with his artistic friends, including the beautiful Adriana (Marion Cotillard). But trying to explain all these late night excursions to Inez and family, well, that’s a bit of a sticky wicket.
For a Woody Allen film, Midnight has an unusual sense of energy and optimism, which he punctuates with long, loving shots of Paris. It’s a visual feast of architecture bathed in sunlight and night light. Allen uses his lens to recreate the artistic renaissance in 1920s Paris and takes us to all the famous and familiar artist hangouts of that era.
Furthermore, while the film, by necessity, uses actors, they are more than mere performers. They are muses with a message. Yes, the cast is good. Wilson is earnestly engaging, McAdams is tastefully snarky, and many of the artists are equal parts funny and pathetic. There’s also an interesting cameo by French first lady Carla Bruni in addition to some mischievous dialogue/quotes by Ernest Hemingway.
But this story is really about artists. While the actors play their parts and engage in Allen’s usual witty repartee, the film exists to absorb and peel back the mystique on names like Hemingway, Picasso, Stein, Porter and Dali (one of my favorites)—their passions and rivalries, and the fact they spent months carousing in Paris looking for some place to party.
Allen also uses this film to explore the relationship between memories past and present. What people might see as a “golden age” from their rearview mirror might only be what the memory conveniently wants to believe, not the real moment.
If art is your thing, then this witty film lovingly provides it. If you can’t afford a plane ticket and you’ve always wanted to go to Paris, here’s your chance to stroll around the streets and take in the lights. For Allen and art lovers around the world, sunshine or rain, it’s worth the walk.