The opening sequence does exactly what it’s meant to do: it makes you want to be in Paris. Tout de suite. The only way to say “Paris” is with a sigh, and nothing demonstrates this more than Woody Allen’s film, Midnight in Paris. You follow the story of Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), an American script-writer who’s working on his first novel. Gil finds himself on holiday in Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her nosy parents. Inez’s plan is to see all the big tourist attractions, preferably with the guided direction of her pseudointellectual friend, Professor Paul. Gil, however, would rather dive into the culture, and dream about Paris’ modernist ex-pats in the 1920s; the ones who made Paris famous for artistic expression and literary experimentation. Upon one of Gil’s late-night, inspirational strolls, he winds up lost on a quiet Parisian street. When the clock strikes midnight you half expect his fairy godmother to beam down with a pumpkin-carriage and tickets to the ball. Instead, a group of flappers jump out of a classic car, drag him to a vintage jazz club, and introduce him to Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, and the Fitzgeralds. For anyone who’s ever studied or loved modernist literature, it’s a fantasy come true.
As a literature-fanatic myself, my feelings throughout the movie are painted on Gil’s face: YOU’RE T.S. ELIOT? THE T.S. ELIOT!? Midnight in Paris does an absolutely bang-up job of getting actors to look, sound, and act like their famous counterparts (or at least match history’s description of them): Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Djuna Barnes… The film tests your knowledge of writers and artists, and demonstrates the close circles in which these forward-thinkers moved. Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) is the go-to advisor for Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), and so many others, as it was in the modernist hay-day. As an author, Gil can’t believe his book will be critiqued by some of the best writers in history. As a person, Gil’s mind is influenced by the artists’ ideals, and begins to question life, love, morals, desires, and purpose. Midnight in Paris stays true to the modernist’s philosophies as well as their famous faces.
There are so many moments in this film that are just magical. For example, the moment when Gil sits down to explain his time-travelling escapades to a group of surrealists – they don’t exactly offer him concrete advice. Throughout the movie, you have to listen and watch closely to pick up on all the little references. They even include Gertrude Stein’s famous portrait and display it right above the actor’s head, almost daring you to compare Kathy Bates to the original Stein. Woody Allen was careful with the details, and I feel like this in itself is a nod to modernism. It’s a subtle movie loaded with celebrity-sightings, and I was as star-struck as Gil Pender from start to finish.
Gil’s midnight adventures really are like Cinderella at the ball. His daytime-life, however, is a total drag (not that Cinderella’s situation was a bowl of peaches). Poor Gil is engaged to a spoiled snob with stiff, close-minded pricks for parents. While he opens himself to all that is Paris, they try their hardest to stay as Californian as possible. I’m not usually an Owen Wilson fan, and it’s true his character shows as little variety as his previous roles, but I feel so sorry for his venus flytrap of a relationship that I can’t help but stick up for his character. He is a sweet, innocent dreamer with a total buzz-kill for a fiancée.
If you know anything about modernism you have to see Midnight in Paris. It’s obligatory. Even if you’re a lover of the belle époque, this movie is a must. Watching it is like seeing a Stan Lee cameo every ten minutes. The philosophy is deep and the creativity is explosive. I am a total fan-girl for this film. 10/10 is my solid opinion, because I’ve seen Midnight in Paris about ten times and each watch was like a romantic trip down the Seine.
Click here for the trailer.