*** (out of four)
Oh, the glorious bistros and baguettes and architecture of Paris! Hollywood screenwriter-turned-novelist Gil (Owen Wilson) could just live there. His increasingly snippy fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams), not so much. Luckily every night at midnight in a sort of reverse-Cinderella adventure for classic art fans, Gil’s whisked away into 1920s Paris where he gets to hang with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Picasso’s lover, the lovely Adriana (Marion Cotillard).
The buzz: Writer-director Woody Allen’s most recent successes (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Match Point”) have come from the I-make-a-movie-every-year-no-matter-what filmmaker finding inspiration in a new, fetching European city. It’s always good to see Allen enamored with something other than his own neuroses or his young female stars (note: “Midnight in Paris” does feature a couple blatantly gratuitous shots of McAdams’ behind in very tight jeans).
The verdict: Allen’s less interested in Gil’s romance (or lack thereof) with Inez than his love affair with the city, which is a pure delight even as “Midnight in Paris” threatens to become a series of cultural name-checking (here’s Matisse, there’s Bunuel, etc.). Very funny and deeply charming, “Midnight in Paris” is a living dream about feeling at home somewhere else, with someone else. The movie salutes that sense of escape while recognizing that nostalgia comes with a certain amount of denial about the present, though Allen’s too emotionally insulated to let his characters truly suffer for their loneliness. Wilson’s excellent as a guy with diverging impulses as both a writer (Hollywood schlock vs. artistic novel) and a man (unpleasant fiancé vs. new fantasy woman). He’s supported by similarly lively work by Cotillard, Michael Sheen (as smugness personified) and Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali. The way he pronounces “rhinoceros” is a thing of beauty.
Did you know? When Gil suggests Paris is beautiful in the rain, Inez (McAdams) wonders what’s wonderful about getting wet. Chicagoans tired of this stupid weather would have to agree.
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