Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen's 41st film, the 75 year old writer/director who manages to release a film each year even to this day still proves he has much to say about human relationships and the way we perceive the world.
Midnight takes on the idea of the 'golden age', a nostalgia we have for the past that seems so much more tantalising and fruitful than the 'decaying' present. It isn't even a debatable subject, we are all guilty of these thoughts, the notion that the past was full of so much integrity and offered so much whereas the time we live in now is diminished in comparison. This film shines a light on the dangerous relationship we can have with glorifying the past beyond the point of safety where it becomes denial.
Owen Wilson leads the show here as Hollywood screenwriter Gil, a man who once visited Paris years ago, fell in love with it but regretfully left it all the same. He is engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams) and both have tagged along to Paris with Inez's parents as her father is close to securing an important business deal. No one in the film except Gil appreciates Paris for all its beauty and for the history it holds, the rest of the American characters seem to sleepwalk through the cultural offerings of Paris and try to live out their day to day lives best they can as they would have in California. Even the family friend of Paul (played brilliantly by Michael Sheen) who is intellectually brilliant and understands Paris in terms of art and history is pompous, egotistic and as the film puts it pedantic.
Gil has been a successful Hollywood screenwriter for some time but feels unfulfilled artistically through his work only now realising he has neglected a life in literature for too long. Gil feels out of place in the modern world and feels his life missed the boat, that he should have lived during the roaring 20s, an exciting time for American literature that Paris produced so much of. So Gil continues work on his novel (he won't let Inez or anyone read it) and along the way in a fantastic adventure meets some figures of the past who help him find his place in the world and as an artist.
After too much time spent with Paul, Gil decides to leave the rest of the party to it and goes for a walk through the city at night. After much wine and forgetting his way back to the hotel he sits on a step to rest, a clock tower strikes midnight and up pulls a vintage car full of people shouting for Gil to get in and join them, after not much of a struggle Gil gives in and off he goes. He arrives at a party and is soon introduced to both Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Gil is taken aback by their names and at first puts it down to a bizarre coincidence but soon realises he's actually talking to the Fitzgeralds. As the night goes on they move location and introduce Gil to one of their friends, Hemingway. This is but one of many trips to 1920s Paris that Gil takes after he leaves his fiance and her family to meet his carriage to the past each night. Gil ends up at the centre of a group of important innovators such as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Gertrude Stein through them he meets the wonderful Adriana (Marion Cotillard) the mistress of Picasso and who like Gil longs for the past. Through his love for Adrianna he learns of his own mistakes and the illusions of happiness he has created for himself while being helped with his art by the very people who have influenced him from a previous life.
It is in these 1920s scenes that offer the most kicks; seeing F. Scott Fitzgerald say "old sport" just like his infamous Jay Gatsby, seeing the war torn persona of Ernest Hemingway jealous and bitter despite his own greatness. He refuses to read Gil's manuscript because he'll despise whether its awful or brilliant because "writers are competitive". This aspect of Hemingway is well played because famously Hemingway was the mentor of Fitzgerald who grew bitter as his protege received great success which shadowed his own. Seeing Gil meet the great Spanish director Luis Bunuel and giving him the idea for his surrealist satire on the upper class The Exterminating Angel is also hilarious as the idea baffles a young Bunuel who asks over and over "but why can't they leave the room".
(Gil meets a drunk Hemingway)
Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is as magical as cinema gets and it's no wonder it has received so well. It is one of his lightest films but as with so much of his work gives much to take home afterwards. It has the audacious fantasy elements featured in The Purple Rose of Cairo and to some extent Deconstructing Harry but offers none of the hard hitting moments those films induce. Midnight offers a message of seize the day; to live for your passions that make each day worth living. Nostalgia can be dangerous when taken too far but is a consistent part of human nature. This film shows us how happiness lies where you are not when you are, to situate yourself where you are most connected and to place yourselves around those that understand you. When we meet Gil his life is suffocating him, his 'loved' ones don't understand what makes him happy and they don't much care. Gil hasn't a clue of this either, he longs for the past but fails to realise he's in the right time just in the wrong job, in the wrong country, and with the wrong woman. As the film goes on Gil learns that the present isn't a shadow of the former golden years as long as you share your present with someone who lights it up and makes it golden for you.