Movie Review: Midnight in Paris (2011)

Woody Allen’s crowning achievement ___ 10/10
Review by Brian Wright


Midnight in ParisDirected by Woody Allen
Written by Woody Allen

Adriana: I can never decide whether Paris is more beautiful by day or by night.
Gil: No, you can’t, you couldn’t pick one. I mean I can give you a checkmate argument for each side. You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.

Owen Wilson … Gil
Rachel McAdams … Inez
Kurt Fuller … John
Mimi Kennedy … Helen
Michael Sheen … Paul
Nina Arianda … Carol
Léa Seydoux … Gabrielle
Marion Cotillard … Adriana
Carla Bruni … Museum Guide
Famous Characters from Paris Past
Yves Heck … Cole Porter
Tom Hiddleston … F. Scott Fitzgerald
Alison Pill … Zelda Fitzgerald
Corey Stoll … Ernest Hemingway
Kathy Bates … Gertrude Stein
Marcial Di Fonzo Bo … Pablo Picasso
Adrien Brody … Salvador Dalí
Adrien de Van … Luis Buñuel
Sonia Rolland … Joséphine Baker
Thérèse Bourou-Rubinsztein … Alice B. Toklas
David Lowe … T.S. Eliot
Yves-Antoine Spoto … Henri Matisse
Vincent Menjou Cortes … Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Olivier Rabourdin … Paul Gauguin
François Rostain … Edgar Degas

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Adriana: I can never decide whether Paris is more beautiful by day or by night.
Gil: No, you can’t, you couldn’t pick one. I mean I can give you a checkmate argument for each side. You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.

Sure beats Hollywood, even Malibu or Santa Monica—one of such places ‘pulp’ screenwriter Gil Pender (Owen Wilson)[1] hails from and from which he is on vacation, in Paris, with his bride to be, Inez (Rachel McAdams). Midnight in Paris, however, is much more than a deeply personal hymn to the City of Love and Light. It is the fondest reflection on our cultural past, especially through the fleshed-out lives of American artistic giants, e.g. Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and Gertrude Stein—and world-renowned figures such as Picasso, Matisse, and Dali—as these primetime lives intersect the city of Paris, France, after hours, in the 1920s.

So how does writer-director Allen make the connection between the 2010 Pender and Inez [who is accompanied in Paris by her parents (played by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy)] and the creatively supercharged Parisian night life of the ’20s? Let viewers enjoy the discovery of the cinematic gimmickry on their own. Suffice it to state that Pender, who runs a nostalgia shop back in California, finds escape from the relentless cultural stupefaction represented by Inez and her Ugly American entourage via his fertile imagination (that the screen conveys in firm reality to us).

Interestingly, this is the first movie I’ve reviewed of Woody Allen’s on the Coffee Coaster. And that’s a shame, because two of his films occupy my top 10 of all time: Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors. A distinguishing quality of Allen’s best is the seamlessness with which he weaves the story, which comes together at the end with a generally life affirming and, more important, logical perfection. Like a Bach fugue or a Mozart aria, Woody Allen is a master composer who makes flawless transition from one act to the next: Midnight flows with a combination of love story (between Gil and modern Paris, Gil and 20s’ Paris, Gil and Adriana, Gil and all those who love Paris—then and now), social satire, and breakout of the human spirit against arrogant, stagnant conformity.

Another virtue of the movie lies in its resurrection of all those artistic icons many of us have learned about since high school but never had a way to concretize. For example, the actor playing Ernest Hemingway, Corey Stoll, emanates the literary force of nature and moral courage that the famous author-adventurer is known for. For some reason, among all the other well-known writers, musicians, and artists, the Hemingway scenes are especially invigorating to me. I’m inspired to read more and to learn more of this significant writer and thinker. Consider the following quotes from the post-WW1 young ‘Papa:’

No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.

I believe that love that is true and real creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving, or not loving well, which is the same thing. And when the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face like some rhino hunters I know, or Belmonte, who’s truly brave. It is because they love with sufficient passion to push death out of their minds, until the return that it does to all men. And then you must make really good love again. Think about it.

Indeed, one has the impression that Allen may be bordering on caricature with the repetition in the actor’s words of the theme of nobility, courage, bravery, and so on. Except one knows that the screenwriter knows and thoroughly respects Hemingway. Same with the others. Thanks for the lesson in art and literature, Woody. Truly. It’s enough to rekindle a passion for the creative life… even in our own graceless age… in anyone. But is our age so graceless after all? Ironically, that’s another issue, perhaps the BIG issue, that the writer/director explores: “What makes an age golden?”

Midnight has so many brilliant qualities, it would take several pages to delve into them all. For the moviegoer, rest assured that the humor and entertainment value is first rate. I particularly get the cosmic incongruity of Gil’s Parisian-night idealism vis a vis the light of day behavior of his fiancee, her snob parents, and her pedantic friends. When confronted by Gil regarding an impropriety between Inez and one of these insufferable male friends, Paul (Michael Sheen), Inez responds to the effect, “He knows so much… and he speaks French.” Not a shred of realness in this girl, and McAdams is better than best in making Inez memorably shallow.

Kudos to all the big name actors for such stunning realizations. [I especially enjoyed Adrien Brody’s Salvador Dali: his air of grandiose benevolence. With a tug always at your funny bone.] The ending is ‘logically perfect’ and will take your breath away. Tour de force puts my praise mildly. Midnight in Paris is a movie you will want to own and fire up from time to time, to dispel—with romantic idealism and realism—those ubiquitous ghosts of depression and unconsciousness that want to kill ‘the human.’ Great, great, great movie.


[1] For the name of the actor playing Gil Pender, I almost wrote ‘Woody Allen,’ because Pender is the quintessential Woody Allen character in movies from Annie Hall to Deconstructing Harry.

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