Movie Review: “Midnight in Paris”

Written by Brent Holmes August 29, 2011

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is a smart comedy, featuring many 1920s literary, musical, and artistic references; it is the perfect film for lovers of literature.

Owen Wilson stars as Gil Pender, an American writer on vacation with his ditzy finance, Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her neo-conservative parents. They are accompanied by the arrogant art critic Paul and his wife Carol (Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda, respectively). Seeking an escape from his fiancee’s family and relatives, Gil wanders the streets of Paris appreciating its beauty and longing for the artistic boom of the 1920s. As if by accident, he finds himself traveling back through time to this magnificent period where he runs into Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom HIddleston and Alison Pill, respectively), Hemingway (Corey Stoll), and Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo).

Midnight in Paris does not spend a long time focusing on the time travel to the 1920s. Within his first visit to the 1920s, Gil quickly accepts the reality and uses it to his own ends by getting a critical eye from Fitzgerald and Hemingway, which he uses to work towards completing his own novel. This not only helps to move the plot along but ends that often irritating period of time in which the time traveler denies that he has gone back in time. In fact, the time travel plot device is handled exceedingly maturely: unlike other films involving similar subject matter the act of traveling through time is a means for the plot to deal with greater themes rather than the centerpiece of the plot itself.

One of the greatest things about Midnight in Paris is the focus on the appreciation of art. Gil is redeemable because he wants to go beyond writing simple Hollywood screenplays. In contrast, his fiance, her family and friends are criticized for seeing art as a simple commodity. Lack of appreciation for art is criticized for either being capitalistic; with Inez’s parents commenting on the price of expensive furniture and clothing, or for being critical for prestige rather than for an introspective emotional reaction; as Paul’s rants adequately demonstrate.

Midnight in Paris has a practical list of recommended readings for the audience to get some of its jokes. It is not a film about a cheap gag, granted Hemingway’s ‘Dwight Schrute-like’ antics are funny enough in their own right. That being said, the comedy is less central to the plot rather than the film’s observations on nostalgia. Allen observes the flaws of idealizing a specific period, and shows those periods likewise looking back to an even earlier past. Nostalgia is only valuable if it furthers appreciation for the artists of the time, but it is not an end, rather a means. Gil’s character arc adequately establishes a nice journey from these points, in fact it is probably one of Wilson’s best performances.

That being said, Midnight in Paris is not a film that is exclusive in its humour, it probably wouldn’t work so well if it was that way. Rather, the film is a smart commentary on art and the human desire to live in a better time.

My Rating: 10/10

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About Brent Holmes

Brent Holmes is a Film Studies and English Major attending Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario where he is working towards a PhD in Film Studies. He currently writes for We Eat Films and The Western Gazette (on the latter, he serves as Arts & Life editor).

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