More so than almost any director, Woody Allen makes films with a clear voice. His voice. In his earlier works he would star in his films, but as age has caught up with him, he has inserted various actors into his films to speak the words and opinions that he writes. Having never quite achieved the same critical success of his early films like Annie Hall and Manhattan, each new release is initially compared favourably to said early canon, before being forgotten and ignored as lesser works. Such is the overwhelming good feeling toward him as a man and a director that critics are desperate for him to make himself relevant again. Midnight in Paris, starring Owen Wilson in the ‘Woody Allen Role’ is his 2011 attempt, and while there are problems, it might just be one of his more memorable works.
Gil Pender (Wilson) is a successful, but self-described Hollywood ‘hack’ writer who visits Paris with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) to try and finish work on a novel. After meeting people that don’t understand his love for Paris, notably her family and friend Paul (Michael Sheen), Gil wanders into the streets alone at midnight and is picked up by an old car containing legendary American author F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) who introduces Gil to a host of famous authors, poets and artists who all help him with his novel.
Just like Annie Hall is a postcard view of Allen’s New York, so Midnight in Paris is a rose-tinted portrayal of the titular French capital. In fact, it’s one beret-wearing bicyclist with onions and a baguette away from being stereotypical. But there is obviously a lot of love for the city as highlighted by the picturesque shots of the City in the middle of the day, or even better by night. Inspiring, mysterious and exciting, Paris is as much a central character as our protagonist.
Owen Wilson channels some of his most successful earlier work to bring Midnight in Paris’ central character of Gil to life. A natural romantic who finds himself stuck in a life slump, he desperately tries to explain to his increasingly exasperated wife-to-be about his problems, which she, rather coldly dismisses. His sometimes awkward performances in front of her right-wing father tell us as much about Allen’s political leanings as they do the flaws of the characters in the film.
Its magical realist approach can sometimes be over-bearing and trite, with some heavy-handed opinions and a complete disregard apparent for people that aren’t ‘artistic.’ However, even with these rather disappointingly obvious flaws, Midnight in Paris is still a beautifully shot and nostalgic view on life which amazes as much as it infuriates. Not Allen’s best work, but a worthy addition to the canon of the one of the 20th century’s most prolific directors.