Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Midnight in Paris - Review

Woody Allen's biggest box office success ever is a fun, irreverent history lesson and a celebration of the greatest times in Parisian history, including the present.

Built around little more than a whimsical plot twist and a glowing love for Paris, Allen's film is somewhat uneven but endlessly charming & uncharacteristically sweet. Owen Wilson makes a better screen Woody Allen than Allen has in years; his boyish goofball charms mix well with Allen's rambling neuroses. Eternally disenchanted writer though he may be, Wilson's Gil is more the lovably distractable artist than the impossible neurotic.

Allen's script has been widely celebrated and, while it is certainly joyously inspired, it is not his best. The writing has its problems - the under-developed "present world" set up & characters feel rushed & churned out (Allen could have mined more comedy / humanity out of spoiled Republicans missing the point of Paris), while a number of elegantly illustrated points are undermined by promptly being spelled out by Wilson's Gil (making him all the more quintessentially Allen). It feels like one more edit, or just a touch of restraint, could have delivered a leaner, sharper, more enduringly effective script.

Thes flaws, however, are easily over-shadowed by the success of Allen's loving characterisations of the creative powerhouses haunting Paris in the 20s - and the subsequent increasingly post-modern plot inversions. His Hemingways, Fitzgeralds, Dalis & Steins come vividly to life in a Paris that is almost impossibly magical.

Performances are inspired all round - although Rachel McAdams struggles with a fairly unforgivably self-centred American snob. The modern-day cast mine some good, if easy, laughs, but the 20s cast - and sets, cinematography & costumes - are dynamite. Adrien Brody has a memorable one minute cameo as a loopy Salvador Dali, you wish there were more of Tom Hiddleston & Alison Pill's F Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Marion Cotillard is a dreamily seductive Parisian muse, but Corey Stoll & Kathy Bates steal the show as Ernest Hemingway & Gertrude Stein - literary forces to be reckoned with. Even with his head way up his own derriere, Stoll's Hemingway is an immensely magnetic character & had Allen written him just one more payoff scene, he'd easily have walked off with the film - and a chance to go home with an Oscar.

As it stands, it's the overall winning charm, the gorgeous production, the real thoughtfulness, completely unabashed romanticism and significant box office that will secure Allen's 47th film as director a spot among this year's Best Picture nominees.