Monday, May 23, 2011

Midnight in Paris: Love in a Timeless City, Thanks to Time Travel

Midnight in Paris
Written and Directed By: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Carla Bruni, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, and Kurt Fuller
Directors of Photography: Darisu Khondji and Johanne Debas, Editor: Alisa Lepselter, Production Designer: Anne Seibel
Rated: PG-13 for sexual humor in the city of love.

            Next week, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life will finally premiere after six years of anticipation, making it his fifth film in almost forty years. And then there’s Woody Allen, who has more films than years behind him, all of them seemingly Irish twins. However, since 2005’s Match Point, a new interest has sparked Mr. Allen’s mind, as a lack of funding sent him to Europe, where he has brought his same humor (and at times drama) to a new set of locations besides the Upper East Side.

            For his latest adventure though is his first film set in the city of romance: Paris. In a beautiful pre-credits sequence, Mr. Allen sets his camera to capturing a day through the city, watching it go from a beautiful sunny morning to a rainy afternoon to an illuminating night, lights bouncing off the wet streets and giving it a magical feel. And there’s actual magic in the narrative too, as Owen Wilson plays the surrogate Mr. Allen as he travels through time. Unfortunately, the actual magic can’t make up for the lack of it that Mr. Allen fails to capture for the heart, bouncing to easily around a loose plot without much cohesion and any real stakes.

       The premise is almost to classic of Mr. Allen: Mr. Wilson plays Gil, a Hollywood hack working on a novel who heads to Paris with his fiancĂ© (Rachel McAdams) and her parents, and immediately falls in love with the idea of Paris in the 1920s. When escaping the horrors of a pretentious wit (the always welcome Michael Sheen) who is a friend of Ms. McAdams’ character, he suddenly finds himself in 1920s Paris, hanging with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway, and Gertrude Stein.
The magical premise recalls some of Mr. Allen’s earlier and more charming work like The Purple Rose of Cairo, yet something never clicks in Midnight in Paris. The problem seems to be that once Mr. Allen introduces the premise, he’s unsure of where to take it but simply repeat it. Gil meets more or more famous people, falling in love with this world he discovers, while his present day relationships begin to strain. His romance with a young and debonair French woman played by the luscious Marion Coltillard never gels together, feeling like a necessary plot device more than an actual romance.

            For his credit, Mr. Allen is at least has a new theme—one of nostalgia and romance with his the idea instead of the actuality—as his starting point, instead of classic story of romance gone awry. But it never sparks when it should, and nothing truly wows you the way Mr. Allen’s older work has, or even something like the powerhouse performances that Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz brought to Vicky Christina Barcelona (the most interesting performance comes from Carla Bruni, aka Mrs. Sarkozy, who is so stale and uncharming to watch it is a real shocker). Instead, Midnight in Paris seems like a quick idea for a movie with some occasional laughs here and there, but never makes the audience fall in love as well. For a city so charming, Mr. Allen’s camera has never felt so dull.

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