Whilst I can appreciate that film reviews are generally written in and around a picture’s release date, what aspiring writer/blogger wouldn’t want to discuss a storyline based on the plight of a struggling novelist and his nightly escapades with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald? And so, as a starting point for what I hope will become an interesting assortment of film, book and theatre reviews on Bellyful of Art for 2015, here are my thoughts on Woody Allen’s romantic comedy, Midnight in Paris.
It’s not just the music that forges an image of Parisian glamour in the opening scenes of Midnight in Paris, although the delicate tones of Sidney Bechet’s Si Tu Vois Ma Mère certainly help. Before we are introduced to its characters, the film lingers over the astonishing architecture, chic cafés and iconic landscapes of its setting and as the hustle and bustle of modern-day Paris circulates within these spectacular surrounds, the potency of such a vibrant, historical city is reinforced in the viewer’s mind. By the time we meet former Hollywood screenwriter, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), we might be as in love with Paris as he is.
Unfortunately for Gil, his dreams of completing his first novel as he walks the Parisian boulevards are dampened somewhat by his tempestuous fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), who expresses early on her puzzlement and exasperation at Gil’s reluctancy to return to a career in which he is so highly sought-after. The introduction of Inez’s college friend and former crush, Paul (Michael Sheen), only serves to heighten the tension between the pair and it looks for a time as though this film is simply a well-told love triangle set against an appropriate backdrop.
A drunken stroll at midnight, however, takes the plot down an unexpected turn and as a lost and unaccompanied Gil is inadvertently transported back to what he believes is Paris’s ‘golden age’, we find ourselves on a celebrity-spotting tour of the 1920’s literati.
Entertaining encounters ensue, from a baffling conversation with the surrealist painter Salvador Dali (brilliantly played by Adrien Brody) to an impassioned lesson in love and death from the writer Ernest Hemingway. But as Gil’s midnight sojourns become a regular occurrence and he is slowly pushed further away from Inez and closer into the arms of Picasso’s mysterious lover, Adriana (Marion Cotillard), is this new reality as ‘golden’ as Gil wants it to be?
Though the storyline may seem somewhat fantastical, a convincing performance from Owen Wilson combined with the inherent old-school glamour of a city as beautiful as Paris, ensures that the time-travel element of this film does not upset its continuity. Under Woody Allen’s direction, Midnight in Paris makes a strong case for what Michael Sheen’s character, Paul, describes as ‘golden-age thinking’ and whilst budding writers and artists alike will appreciate seeing their idols personified, many viewers will understand that this film is less about the past than it is about the present.