In Midnight, Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a frustrated American writer visiting Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her family. Gil is right at home in Paris; he loves the architecture, the romanticism, and the entire atmosphere of the place. The only thing that could make it better is if it could be Paris in the 1920s. Inez, however, would prefer being back in California in the present (she calls Paris "corny"). One night, Gil is out walking and he's magically (and unexplainably) transported back to the 1920s, where he meets and parties with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, and Gertrude Stein. Suffice it to say, he's reborn, reenergized, and happier than he's ever been.
Woody Allen has always been a guy who lives in the past; nearly all his films employ the same old-timey title sequence and music, despite the setting of the film itself. Here, he's confronting the question of whether those so-called good ole days were indeed better than the present day. A character played by Michael Sheen dismisses nostalgia as a denial of a painful present. And indeed, we often see the past as a less challenging time. Our troubles, what little of them there were, had to be less troubling then. Those earlier days are always romanticized. Who wouldn't want to live in another time?
Here, as lovely as modern-day Paris is, the Paris of the 1920s is better. The people are more interesting, more attractive, and more glamorous. Things are new, fresh, and exciting ... more fun. In the roles of some of those 1920s personalities, Woody has cast such actors as Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Alison Pill, and the always radiant Marion Cotillard, who all bring a fun energy to the film and make that period more attractive. And yet, as Woody shows, for those whom the 1920s represents the present, the 1920s aren't as attractive as Gil thinks they are. Does everyone long for the past, no matter what time period it is?
It's not just the aforementioned people who are well cast. Owen Wilson does a nice job, giving one of his better performances in recent years. Even though he's playing a Woody surrogate, Wilson makes the character his own. McAdams (Wilson's co-star in Wedding Crashers) is also good, representing the modern sensibility that Gil doesn't buy into. The film is light and breezy, totally charming, with a witty and engaging screenplay. Midnight is a very Woody Allen movie; aside from the distinctive titles and music, and standard 90-minute running time, you can hear his voice in much of the dialogue (especially Wilson's, of course). I dare say it's one of Woody's best films of the past decade, my favorite since Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
In Midnight, Woody makes an undeniable statement that there's nothing wrong with living in the past. Since it looks like he has no reason to change his ways, I'm looking forward to what he does in the future. For the present, I'm giving Midnight in Paris a strong B+.