Movie Review: Midnight in Paris

By Peter Calder

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Carla Bruni and Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris. Photo / Supplied
Carla Bruni and Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris. Photo / Supplied

Four films set in London, one in Barcelona and he's just finished shooting in Rome: that Woody Allen sure gets around.

If you miss the title, you won't wait long to see where the freshest fruit of his Grand Tour is set. It opens with a moving slide-show, set to jaunty accordion music, naturellement, of all the postcard sights of the City of Light. Allen showers us with cliches as if daring us to think that Paris cannot transcend them. The problem is that his film doesn't.

His real masterstroke is the casting of Wilson in the lead role. His goofily charming Gil Pender is the best avatar yet of the wide-eyed romanticism that lurks beneath the world-weary exterior characters Allen usually plays in Allen films. Tentative and self-effacing, lovably neurotic, he's the perfect American in Paris.

Gil, who's a hack screenwriter in Hollywood and working on a novel, is on holiday with his puddle-shallow fiancee Inez (McAdams), and her Tea Party Republican parents. When they bump into an old flame of Inez's (Sheen), Gil decides to cut loose and walk the streets.

As midnight strikes, he watches in amazement as a 1920s Rolls-Royce pulls up at the kerb and its occupants beckon him aboard. The seriously spoiler-averse should skip to the penultimate paragraph.

Like the Gil in The Purple Rose of Cairo, Gil Pender has an unexplained facility for moving easily between reality and fantasy - the car whisks him to a party hosted by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald where he meets a star-studded line-up including Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein (who appraises his manuscript) and Ernest Hemingway.

There are enough in-jokes to keep literati amused but the characters are paper-thin stereotypes and the whimsy gets crushed under the weight of the concept. Allen's saying something about nostalgia being a wasted emotion - in case we don't get the point, he has Gil meet a woman in the 20s who longs for Belle Epoque Paris, where Toulouse-Lautrec will tell her it's been all downhill since the Renaissance.

If nothing else, it makes the film's ending a jarring cop-out, but it underlines the inescapable fact that it's a one-trick pony of a movie, in which the gallery of excellent impersonations soon begins to look like a kind of thespian name-dropping.

It's a short-film idea, really, stretched too thin and never more than mildly amusing.

Stars: 3/5
Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard
Director: Woody Allen
Running time: 94 mins
Rating: PG (sexual references)
Verdict: Whimsy overload.


- NZ Herald

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