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Woody Allen Midnight in Paris: Romantic Fantasy Mostly Well-Received

Midnight in Paris Woody Allen Owen Wilson Rachel McAdams
Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen romantic fantasy stars Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams.
Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the director’s 41st film, opened the Cannes Film Festival today. Starring unlikely Allen hero Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Alison Pill, and Gad Elmaleh, and featuring Carla Bruni in a cameo as a museum tour guide, Midnight in Paris has been greeted by mostly positive (English-language) reviews.

The film revolves around a modern American abroad who revisits Allen’s idealized Paris of the 1920s, when the city was host to a remarkable segment of the American cultural elite: Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald. In fact, for a movie set in Paris, Midnight in Paris sounds like a very US-centered affair. Apart from Marion Cotillard, the only French stars featured in Allen’s ode to the French capital are Léa Seydoux and Gad Elmaleh.

Midnight in Paris opened in France today. It opens in the United States on May 20.

Midnight in Paris, also, is helped by its unashamed sense of fairytale fantasy. Owen Wilson, playing the Allen alter-ego Gil Pender, is indulging in a dream-life of literary American expats in 1920s Paris. (Allen even gets a reference in to the utterly obscure lesbian novelist Djuna Barnes.) Allen, with his unswerving adoration of old-time showtunes and unfettered veneration of Manhattan’s interwar nightclub scene, has always seemed a man out of time. Maybe he’s finally found his place. (Andrew Pulver in The Guardian.)

The film is good. Not a radical change in direction or form. But good. It rides on a familiar but clever and expansive central idea that sustains Allen’s interest, and ours. And that’s something that can’t be said of more than two or three Allen pictures from the last 20 years. (Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune.)

As beguiling as a stroll around Paris on a warm spring evening ­ something which Owen Wilson’s character here becomes very fond of himself ­ Midnight in Paris represents Woody Allen’s companion piece to his The Purple Rose of Cairo, a fanciful time machine that allows him to indulge playfully in the artistic Paris of his, and many other people’s, dreams.  A sure-fire source of gentle amusement to Allen’s core audience but unlikely to connect with those with no knowledge of or feel for the Paris of the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Picasso… (Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter.)

From this movie’s opening postcard-view montage of Paris — familiar in a number of ways — it’s clear the French capital is to be added to the list of cities that Woody Allen adores, and idolises all out of proportion. His new movie was an amiable amuse-bouche to begin the Cannes festival feast: sporadically entertaining, light, shallow, self-plagiarising. It’s a romantic fantasy adventure to be compared with the vastly superior ideas of his comparative youth, such as the 1985 movie The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which it was possible to step through the silver screen, or his 1977 short story “The Kugelmass Episode,” in which it was possible to enter the world of Madame Bovary. (Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.)

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris — for my money, the best Allen movie in 10 years, or maybe even close to 20 — is all about that idea: Reckoning with the past as a real place, but also worrying about the limits of nostalgia. Allen, as an artist and as a person, has always liked old stuff: Old movies, old books, old jazz recordings — you could even say that it’s often been hard for him to live in the present. But instead of just reaffirming how great the old days were, Midnight in Paris — in ways that are sometimes delightfully silly and other times strangely, deeply moving — grapples with something more complicated and elusive. (Stephanie Zacharek in Movie Line.)

Woody Allen’s cinematic love letter to Paris kicked off the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and is already playing on French screens. Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and Marion Cotillard, Midnight in Paris has received a number of positive English-language reviews. Oscar buzz, in fact, has already begun – though how far-reaching that will be remains to be seen.

Now, what have the French film critics said about it? Below are snippets from three French-language reviews:

Cinema is a dream machine. And this new movie, the least neurotic by the Annie Hall filmmaker, is alive with magic and romance. A little bit like in The Purple Rose of Cairo, Woody Allen forgets his paranoia, puts his hypochondria in the closet, and serves us a highly successful romantic comedy. The Parisian atmosphere suits him, whether it’s rainy, windy, or sunny. (Olivier Delcroix, Le Figaro.)

A meditation on creativity and the passing of time (were things better in the past?), Midnight in Paris is the film of an old gentleman still alert and lucid, one who isn’t afraid of coming up with his own autocriticism (who else better depicts the immobility of which his character seems to be a prisoner?), while paying homage to the artists that have marked him. If Midnight in Paris doesn’t always skirt the commonplace … the film shines thanks to the superior quality of its subtle dialogue and to Owen Wilson’s performance… (Christophe Narbonne, Premiere.)

… [W]hen the screen turned black at the end of the film, we asked ourselves if we enjoyed Midnight in Paris or if Woody Allen was better in the past … as far as we’re concerned, we savored the film one scene at a time the way we would enjoy a creamy mille-feuilles – one layer at a time! Delicious. (Laetitia Santos,

Update: Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris opened with the year’s highest per-theater average and would become one of the filmmaker’s biggest domestic box office hits.

Rachel McAdams and Owen Wilson Midnight in Paris movie image: Roger Arpajou | Sony Pictures Classics.

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