Midnight In Paris

Art & Culture

It’s time for the annual ritual of Woody Allen’s Return To Form, in which film critics earnestly assure a gullible public that the little man really has produced something special that we should all go and see. My view is that there are the seeds of a nice idea here, but the execution is sloppy.

It’s hard not to feel that Woody Allen can’t be bothered that much any more. He goes from city to city (New York, London, Barcelona, now Paris), and famous actors line up to appear in his films for nothing, while the cities fall over backwards for the honour of appearing in one of his films – which he helpfully names after said city. As for the script, well, an outline of an idea seems to be enough.

In this case, the ersatz Woody Allen (following in the footsteps of such unlikely actors as Kenneth Branagh and Jason Biggs) is Owen Wilson, about as unlike a nasal New Yorker as you can imagine, but giving it his best shot. He’s a young(ish) American In Paris, in love with the city and its history, but lumbered with a philistine fiancee (Rachel McAdams), her right wing parents, and a pompous, pretentious intellectual (Michael Sheen) who insinuates himself into the party.

But fear not, enlightenment is at hand. One night at midnight, an old car pulls up beside him and he is driven off to a strange and wondrous world of the past, where he meets – wait for it – Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, T S Eliot, Matisse, Picasso, Bunuel and Dali, and every other famous celebrity who ever drank too much in Paris between the Wars. Plus a hot chick in the shape of Marion Cotillard, with whom he is – ‘ow you say? – sympathique. Like I say, this is a neat enough idea, with overtones of Purple Rose Of Cairo, but whereas the Allen of 25 years ago took the trouble to make a fully formed plot, with characters who were interesting, in 2011 he can’t be bothered. The various people we meet are one dimensional at best, and as ever, there is the endless repetitive soundtrack, ladelled on like hot curry sauce to conceal the indigestibility of the meat underneath.

But it grossed $87 million around the world, you say. Surely it must be good. I beg to differ. Yes, it is more fun than most of what we’ve had to put up with for some years. Tom Hiddleston makes a charming Scott Fitzgerald, Adrien Brody shines briefly as Bunuel, and no one can ever hate Owen Wilson. The conceit of the thing is charming; it’s just that that’s all there is. Once you’ve got over the idea that you’re going to meet every famous ex-pat in the 20s and 30s (though we also get an added dose of Degas and Cezanne), and realised that the underlying message (semaphored for the hard of understanding) that here and now is better than nostalgia, then that’s all there is, unless seeing Carla Bruni as a tour guide (a favour to Sarkozy to grease the wheels?) floats your boat.

I know. You’ll go and see it anyway, because we all yearn to go back in time and find that wonderful Woody Allen film that we believe (against all the evidence) he still has left in him. All I ask is that you view it with an open mind, think about what I’ve said, then come back and tell me why I’m wrong.


Philip Raby

Front Row Films

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