Midnight in Paris
@ The Neon
June 12, 2011
Woody Allen’s getting a little long in the tooth to play opposite beautiful, young actresses these days, so he had Owen Wilson do it for him in “Midnight in Paris.” Wilson stars as Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter who, though successful, feels unfulfilled as a wannabe Hemingway. The ever-present romantic in Gil sees a business trip with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents as an opportunity to “walk the streets of Paris in the rain” and to work on his novel. Inez and her conservative family have other ideas. So, when Gil finds himself walking the streets lost and alone late one night, he finds himself magically transported to 1920s Paris, a time and place occupied by his heroes, F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and other artistic and literary gods.
Taking advantage of a film phenomenon that could be described as Groundhog Day combined with Field of Dreams, Gil discovers that every night at midnight he’s able to hobnob with the most influential people of the early 20th century. As if finding himself in his ideal place and time in all of human existence isn’t gift enough, Gil quickly meets and is accepted into the elite 1920s social circle that includes Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso and many other people you’ve heard of. Gil even gets Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) to proofread his manuscript.
While Gil’s initial trips back to his personal heaven are productive and fun, (we get to see what a drunken conversation between Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso might look like) the nightly time travels begin to become unnecessary and stagnant, eventually coming off as little more than an effort to drop as many huge names as possible. “You’re T.S. Eliot!”
Each new intellectual giant of the era Gil encounters has less impact than the previous. It’s impossible to develop the hypothetical social behavior of so many complex individuals inside of two hours and introducing so many new characters becomes tiresome. The best and most humorous scenes of the movie involve Gil seeking the advice of Hemingway, as he’s all at once mesmerized by the unlikely circumstances and overwhelmed by Hemingway’s honesty and intensity. Even moviegoers with just a passing understanding of Hemingway’s style like myself will be able to laugh when he passes along advice to Gil on love and life. Stoll’s Hemingway was particularly entertaining and I would’ve preferred a more specific story that allowed Gil to continue to interact with Hemingway and others who could relate to Gil’s predicament. I get why we’re meeting Gertrude Stein, Gil needs help with his novel. But why are we meeting Salvador Dali?
After acquiring the affection of Picasso’s mistress, Adriana (Marion Cotillard), and besting both Picasso and Hemingway in the process (you can just picture Allen smiling as he imagines himself in this scenario), Gil learns from her that even the most interesting people living in the most interesting time can be unhappy in their present. This is a revelation that lets Gil free himself of both his unpromising engagement to Inez and his obsession with his trips to the 20s.
Ultimately, the majority of Midnight in Paris is undeniably fun, often humorous and the performances are good across the board. I just found much of it disappointing due to an engaging, exciting first half that faded away and the unfulfilled potential of the premise.