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Midnight in Paris


#152 - Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen, 2011



A nostalgic American screenwriter is on holiday in Paris with his fiancée and her parents when he discovers a way to travel back in time to the 1920s.

How many Woody Allen films am I going to put myself through before I finally decide to say "Screw it, this just isn't worth it"? Whatever the answer is, I am now one film closer to it. Owen Wilson plays the protagonist, who once again seems to be yet another Allen-like protagonist who's a nervous, talkative romantic with niche interests. At least this doofus is being played by somebody other than Allen himself. It doesn't help that so many other characters in this film tend to be extremely one-dimensional even for a supposedly light-hearted low-fantasy comedy. Rachel MacAdams is Wilson's self-absorbed American fiancée whose cheerful callousness towards him suspends one's disbelief as to how they ever ended up together, while Marion Cotillard gets little more to do than play a classy Parisian variation of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl with only the slightest fragment of extraneous development (which I'll talk about further later on). The magical realism extends to Wilson's aspiring novelist meeting various literary and artistic legends, though a lot of those don't extend past some predictable caricatures (Ernest Hemingway wants to drink and fight people, Salvador Dali is a complete weirdo, etc.) That'd be fine (in a manner of speaking) if it was confirmed that this was just Wilson discovering some sort of magic wish-fulfilment world where his heroes are exactly how he idealised them but...

WARNING: "Midnight in Paris" spoilers below
...no, it turns out that his time-travel is apparently having an impact on the real world, as evidenced by the fact that when he returns to the present day he finds an old book written by Cotillard that mentions him by name, which conveniently skips over any questionable implications to get back to the plot as quickly as possible...


...and thus the 1920s sequences and Wilson's behaviour in them do prompt derisive eye-rolling more so than genuine mirth. Even the climax seems to drop the ball in this regard:

WARNING: "Midnight in Paris" spoilers below
It turns out that Cotillard idealises the 1890s and dislikes the 1920s in the same way that Wilson idealises the 1920s and dislikes 2010, which prompts Wilson to have an epiphany (that got pointed out to him by another character at the start, no less, but that character was blatantly antagonistic so who cared what he thought?) that people are always going to think the good old days were better than the present. So he decides to stay in 2010, which entails breaking up with his fiancée and meeting up with that one random French shopgirl from earlier in the movie who also happens to be interested in old-fashioned romantic stuff anyway, so...yay for compromise, I guess?


Midnight in Paris has a decent premise, but it's let down by underwritten characters, lacking humour, and a frequently inconsistent treatment of its themes and messages. I concede that there is something ever-so-slightly charming about the over-saturated period-piece setting full of famed artistic figures, though even those tend to make me think of the premise's wasted potential. The fact that it starts with several minutes' worth of establishing shots of Paris may be intended to be part of a cinematic love letter to the city (both past and present) but it just comes across as especially indulgent in a film that seems to do nothing but indulge the whims of its creator and his self-insert protagonist for a good 90 minutes or so.