Gil Pender, a self-described “hack writer” in Hollywood, has accompanied his fiancée, Inez, who has all the warmth of Sartre’s Inez, and Inez’s right-wing parents to Paris. He has brought with him his first stab at a legitimate novel, which involves a nostalgia shop, along with his regret for not having remained in Paris the previous time he visited the City of Lights. Wandering the streets alone, he somehow time-travels to the 1920s beginning at midnight; on the first night, he meets, among others, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Ernest Hemingway. Each subsequent night he seeks out this magical passage to the 1920s nightlife, meeting, among others, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel, and Man Ray. Adriana, Picasso’s mistress (this character is made-up), even takes a shine to Pender but will not remain with him in the 1920s—her present—once she gains magical access to Paris in the 1890s. It seems that one’s dissatisfaction with life, in whatever time, pulls this person nostalgically backward in time, which he or she views through rose-colored glasses. Marion Cotillard, who won an Oscar playing Édith “La vie en rose” Piaf, plays Adriana.
Woody Allen wrote and directed Midnight in Paris, in which Cotillard is excellent. Two other standouts are Adrien Brody as Dalí and Kathy Bates as Stein. Coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, they also are Oscar winners. Alas, Owen Wilson is not so good in the central role, that of Pender—the Woody Allen-role. Almost every time he opens his mouth, Wilson wobbles the film.
Indeed, it is a fragile film, and much of its charm and whimsy rely on this fact. This is a lovely comedy, somewhat in the Alice-vein (1990). I was never convinced, however, that Gil would have fancied himself in love with Inez, no matter the ambivalence of his self-image.
Gabrielle, the Parisian with whom we see him strolling in the closing shot, is a better match.
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