Some filmmakers never quite venture out of their comfort zone; always operating within similar thematic and technical parameters. Not to say this is a bad thing, in fact, a near-perfect example to the contrary is the writer-comic-actor-director-intellectual Woody Allen. Ever since the early 1970s, he has steadily cranked out features on an annual basis; principally dealing with neurosis, contemporary romance and society, and the endless, comedic, endlessly comedic ways in which these things can clash.
Allen’s features have been rather taken with Europe these past several years (“Match Point”, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), but with “Midnight in Paris”, his new film, Allen crafts a love letter to Paris; depicting the bizarre ways in which a city can profoundly impact and inspire one’s artistry. That one guy is Owen Wilson playing Gil Pender, a self-described Hollywood hack screenwriter, whose trip to the City of Lights has driven him to take many a midnight stroll to both get creative inspiration for his work-in-progress novel, and to get away from his uptight fiancee and her hostile parents.
There is a secret that “Midnight in Paris” holds; a certain concept that’s key to both Pender’s creative inspiration, and where Woody Allen himself was inspired to make this film. Let it be known that it’s what sets “Midnight in Paris” considerably apart from standard cineplex fare, even standard Woody Allen fare.
Regardless of who is in the lead role, Allen tends to model the lead closely to his personality, and Owen Wilson’s Gil could easily have been played by a younger Allen. Wilson kills it here though, putting a very friendly, charming stamp on the various neuroses of the Allen archetype.
But where “Midnight in Paris” really shines is its supporting cast, an eclectic blend of character actors, Oscar-winners, and others. Rachel McAdams as Wilson’s fiancee has a solid rapport with both Wilson and Michael Sheen, in a hilarious bit role as a family friend whose snobbish, pedantic mannerisms serve as a recurring joke in the film. Other actors whose roles greatly stand out, but whose exact parts I must hold back for spoilers’ purposes include Tom Hiddleston (fresh off a villainous stint in “Thor”), Alison Pill, Adrien Brody, whose final line is one of the funniest things all year, and the exquisite Marion Cotillard as something of a love interest.
The surprises “Midnight in Paris” has to offer are a great many, making it a film that you’re never once positive what’s coming next but you’re constantly anxious to find out. Allen’s writing is in top form here, being one of his stronger and certainly most fanciful scripts in a decade or two.
“Paris” achieves a certain poignancy, an evocation of an era whose byproducts are worshipped to this day. It’s a film whose problems are few — perhaps some characters serve more as caricatures, although a good deal of that is probably intentional on Allen’s part. It’s thoroughly charming, stirring work. A-