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FIVE STAR FILMS #67: Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen – 2011)

I continue to be utterly taken with Midnight in Paris. As a Francophile and Woody Allen fan, especially the recently lauded additions to his intimidatingly impressive resumé (Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona and Blue Jasmine), this comedic gem from 2011 sees Allen capture the outsider’s wondrous gaze of the world’s most romantic city. With every watch I fall deeper in love. That may make me a latte sipping, academic, cinephile but so what.
1. A premise 50 years in the making
The Nerdist unearthed a recording of Allen during a stand up comedy bit here imaging wild times spent with Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and The Fitzgeralds. It’s amazing that this fleeting bit laid the foundations for the oscar winning script. The following complete story was said to have been formulated by Allen in 2009. Gil (Wilson) and his fiancé Inez (McAdams) whose relationship is being strained. Gil’s wants to use Paris as a muse to attempt his first novel instead of following his secure, established career path as a screenwriter. Gil’s world turns upside down when as midnight strikes on a picturesque Parisian Street he’s able to travel back to the 1920s Paris (his professed Golden Era) filled with iconic artists (writers/painters/musicians) such as Ernest Hemmingway (Corey Stoll), F.Scott (Tom Hiddleston) & Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), T.S Elliot (David Lowe), Cole Porter (Yves Heck), and Salvador Dali (Adrian Brody). Now this wonderful, whimsical and unique twist that ignites Midnight in Paris; ultimately making it the great intellectual and art/literary love fest. The ensuing adventure of being inspired, writing and getting editorial guidance from all of the artists that you admire is sweet, subtle and inspiring tale of the traps of being a tragically nostalgic person. Woody Allen found a great muse in the city of love. He often stated that he fell in love with the city during the shoot of What’s New Pussycat and had planned to buy an apartment there and split time between Paris and New York. The fact that the he didn’t seems to have stoked the fires for writing this later.

2. The Best Woody Allen that wasn’t
Owen Wilson’s Gil is infused with the traits of the neurotic, Woody Allen protagonist perfectly.  And plays on the one hand; the out of time outsider in the present age; and the other a joyous artisan appreciating the (until now) impossible human interaction with the historical figures he found inspirational. He seems to be able to pace the Allen protagonist’s verbal locomotion with his drawl, making him still exude confidence instead of that paralysing fear.  Allen says that he cast the ‘funny boned’ Wilson for his ability to not feel like he’s acting. He’s funny, sweet and downtrodden, the outsider in every exchange in modern times and yet it’s impossible not to be on his side. It was a career resurrecting performance from Wilson and his most accomplished performance as a dramatic lead.
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3. I barely had to direct. 
Allen said of Midnight in Paris’ ensemble particularly that he basically let the cameras role and let the phenomenal cast do the rest. The rolling guided camera following the characters down the cobbled streets, or through the beautiful gardens is directed to showcase the performers’ extraordinary talent and Allen’s Oscar winning scripting. Rachael McAdams’ Inez is the shallow, abrasive, status oriented fiancé you’d expect from the heir of moneyed socialites. Michael Sheen steals almost every scene  with his characteristic chameleon-like versatility and timing. Sheen’s character, the all too perfect Paul – Inez’s former lover –  happens to be holidaying in Paris with his wife Carol (Nina Arianda) at the same time as Gil and Inez. There double date scenes where Paul (Sheen) struts enlightening the group with his expertise on almost everything tees up some of Gil’s characteristically Allen reactions.
4. Icons
Loki himself, Tom Hiddleston portrays F. Scott Fitzgerald the rock for the wild Zelda played by Newsroom’s Alison Pill. There’s a great fatalistic realisation in all of Gil’s interactions with F. Scott that Zelda may not be the right girl for him. While Hemmingway played by House of Cards’ Corey Stoll is just the grand, masculine, bull you’d expect him to be. Every piece of prose spouting from his lips had me chuckling incessantly, only second to his pronouncements like; “And there’s nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully. And then it’s not only noble but brave.” He’s nothing short of Hilarious.  Marion Cotillard is Gil’s kindred spirit Adriana – living in the 1920s and inspiring the likes of Pablo Picasso & Hemmingway along the way. Cotillard’s beauty and intense gaze is as disarming as ever.
5. Si ti vois ma mère 
Allen’s affinity for Jazz has resulted in his score choices for a large majority of his films to be self evident. However, this soulful little ditty on clarinet ‘Si ti vois ma mère’ feels like what someone would compose if they were tasked with making a song for the heart beat of Paris.

Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Written & Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Adrian Brody, Michael Sheen, Marion Cotillard, Carla Bruni and Kathy Bates

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