This is going to be a tricky one.
I have two self-appointed tasks here. The first: to convince you to go see Woody Allen’s brilliant Midnight in Paris. That shouldn’t be too tricky, at least in a vacuum. But it’s the second that’s the problem: to not spoil the movie. Because, in essence, to review Midnight in Paris is to spoil it. I loved this movie – it might be my favorite of 2011. But if I reveal the basic plot line, it ruins the fun for anyone who hasn’t seen it. And as persuasive as I’d like my words to be, there’s only a certain extent to which they can go here. Have you ever had the following conversation, or a similar kind of conversation, with someone?
“You need to see this movie. It was so good.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s hard to explain. Just go see it.”
“But it sounds like such a stupid concept.”
“I know, but trust me. You would like it. Just go.”
Doesn’t exactly instill confidence, does it? And yet, here I am, wondering how to avoid this same conversation with you, the reader, about Midnight in Paris. Which, if I haven’t mentioned, is just fantastic. So let’s see where this goes.
Midnight in Paris is basically a love letter to its titular city. It opens with a montage (overly long, but still beautiful) of shots from day and night and sun and rain all over the city before settling in on our protagonist, played by Owen Wilson. That’s right – Owen Wilson is playing the Woody Allen surrogate in this one. But it’s by way of Wilson, whose character makes no bones about his California surfer-type life. Allen reportedly adapted the character to fit his main man’s style once Wilson jumped on board. It’s a smart move.
Wilson’s character – Gil Pender – is a Hollywood-hack screenwriter who’s hoping to break some new creative ground with an upcoming novel he’s developing – and he’s as romantic as can be about the past and about the city he finds himself in – Paris. He’s there on vacation with his fiancee’ Inez (Rachel McAdams, playing the shrill type) and falls in love with every street corner, every lake, every statue and every remnant of days past – a time that, in his mind, was the Golden Age. Inez is less impressed with the city’s architecture, and more smitten by “intellectual” Paul Bates (Michael Sheen, who steals absolutely every single scene he is in), a friend of hers who just happens to be in town with his wife. Paul and his ideas of exploring France start to drive the couple’s time in Paris, and Gil looks desperately for a way to escape. He finds one on a late-night semi-drunken walk through the streets – and then the clock strikes midnight.
Something happens after midnight in Paris. I can’t say what – but seeing as the movie’s title is Midnight in Paris, I don’t believe I’m spoiling anything. But something happens the first night, and it drives Gil back out on the streets night after night, to the disgust of Inez and the suspicion of her parents, who are there on business. And it only serves to heighten Gil’s romanticism. The concept of what happens after midnight is a neat little idea. The film’s execution of that concept is so much more.
There are so many other brilliant actors and characters in this film, as you’d know from reading the cast list or watching the trailer. To reveal anything about their actual parts would be to tear the surprise in half. But the thespians themselves are a delight to watch. There’s Marion Cotillard, as romantic as Gil and marked with an unmistakable beauty; Kathy Bates, stern, motherly and quite fluent in several languages (who knew?); Tom Hiddleston (Thor’s Loki) and Alison Pill as a buoyant yet troubled couple. The film has two more aces up its sleeve after the clock chimes – Corey Stoll is a brash and bold revelation in one of his first major film roles, while Adrien Brody has precisely one scene and turns it into the funniest four minutes in the movie.
There are plenty of things about Midnight in Paris I can say without spoiling the film. See it to bask in the beauty of Allen’s version of Paris, to be charmed by a soundtrack plucked from decades ago, to enjoy an almost untouchably good ensemble cast at the peak of its powers. See it to soak up the glory of the past while realizing how good we have it in the present. But above all, see it for that element of mystery. Isn’t it nice to not have a film ruined when its trailers and reviews reveal too much? Gil takes the plunge night after night, not knowing what awaits. You won’t regret it if you join him.
And if all of that wasn’t enough to convince you, let me sum it up in six simple letters…