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The City of Light 

Woody Allen revives Owen Wilson's sagging career with 'Midnight in Paris'

It is easy to get an audience on your side if you set your film in one of the greatest cities on Earth and then heavily romanticize it. Woody Allen has succeeded with Manhattan—perhaps his best film, top to bottom—more recently with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and now with Midnight in Paris.

But how would Allen fare with something like Vicky Cristina Barstow?

Woody's extended European tour, which has been the backdrop for his resurgence in the past half-decade or so, has deepened his dramatic storytelling (Match Point and Cassandra's Dream) but has further flattened his comedies (Scoop, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger). Midnight in Paris is easily his best straight-ahead comedy in a while, providing genuine laughs and holding a viewer's interest—though it is not as accomplished as Vicky Cristina or Match Point.

The film opens with a parade of snapshots of the City of Light, a three-minute montage of sites that could only be in Paris. Even if you've never been, they are recognizable, if not identifiable, and perhaps that's the filmmaker's point. After the introduction of Paris, Allen zeroes in on his story, which is fresher than most of his recent comedy tales, even if it suffers from some pretty deep flaws in the execution.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a screenwriter, a "Hollywood hack" by his own admission. Vacationing in Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), Gil has the overwhelming desire to stay there and walk away from his career in the movies. He's writing his first novel and finds Paris inspirational—perhaps a more "serious" place for a "serious" writer to live.

The neurotic, frustrated writer with relationship problems is a stock Woody Allen character, so even though Gil and Inez are close to taking the plunge, it's not all rosy, even in Paris. She seems taken with and a bit distracted by a fatuous know-it-all (Michael Sheen), and Gil is tired of the modern annoyances of his life in California, telling Inez how he wished they lived in Paris during the Golden Age of the 1920s. (That's one of Paris' Golden Ages, anyway, a luxury afforded to cities that are a couple thousand years old.)

One night, Gil hails a cab and winds up at a party in what looks like a really retro discotheque. In reality, he's been transported back to the 1920s, where he bumps into luminaries like Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Picasso and Dalí. It is, as Gil would have suspected, better than his real life.

Allen seems to be imploring the adage about the grass being greener on the other side, and that's part of it. He's also saying that you can't live on the other side, anyway, so you might as well take care of your own lawn. Or something like that: As much as Gil might have enjoyed Paris in the '20s, he simply can't stay there, so he'd better find a way to improve his real life.

While it's a victory for Allen, Midnight in Paris really puts wind back in the sails of Owen Wilson's staid career. His boyish optimism carries the film, and his comedic timing, which is usually good on its own, becomes even crisper with Allen's distinctly rhythmic writing. The supporting cast members are great as well, but they truly are supporting in this case.

The problems that exist are symptomatic of many of Woody Allen's films: The main characters are pretty interchangeable with those from his other comedies; his dialogue often sounds like he's trying to amuse himself and not an audience; and he's so in love with the hook of his story that the rest of the details are undercooked, at best.

But this time, it doesn't matter very much. Maybe that's an upshot of shooting a film in Paris instead of Barstow.

Midnight in Paris
Rated PG-13 · 94 minutes · 2011
Official Site: www.sonyclassics.com/midnightinparis
Director: Woody Allen
Producer: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Jaume Roures and Javier Méndez
Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Nina Arianda, Carla Bruni, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston and Corey Stoll

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What others are saying (12)

Portland Mercury Good Woody Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is a shockingly good return to form. by Ned Lannamann 06/02/2011
Colorado Springs Independent Time warp: Midnight in Paris In life, there are a few things on which you can always depend, one of them being a new Woody Allen film annually by Anders Wright 06/09/2011
Creative Loafing Atlanta Midnight in Paris harks back to 1920s Paris — and vintage Woody Allen Time-travel comedy finds humor in the Lost Generation by Curt Holman 06/09/2011
9 more reviews...
NUVO Ed reviews 'Midnight in Paris' Woody Allen's latest film may lack substance, but the romantic fantasy still manages to delight those seeking lighter fare. by Ed Johnson-Ott 06/15/2011
Style Weekly The Great Gilsby Owen Wilson gets around in "Midnight in Paris." by Wayne Melton 06/07/2011
Indy Week Woody Allen's slight but charming French movie, Midnight in Paris Despite its feathery texture and thin characterizations, Woody Allen's new comedy touches on difficult paradoxes of being in love with history and our tendency to project fantasies onto the present. by Nathan Gelgud 06/08/2011
Portland Mercury My 14 Favorite Movies of 2011 Why my favorites? Because I work at a newspaper and you don't! by Erik Henriksen 12/29/2011
Charleston City Paper Midnight in Paris is an examination of nostalgia Woody Allen's latest, Midnight in Paris, is an amusing fantasy with a slight but charming hook. by Felicia Feaster 06/08/2011
The Coast Halifax Midnight In Paris nostalgic joy Woody Allen's most recent film a whimsical treat by Carsten Knox 06/09/2011
East Bay Express Midnight in Paris Woody Allen drives on deeper into Europe. by Kelly Vance 05/25/2011
Memphis Flyer Travelin’ Man Woody Allen continues his European renaissance of sorts with Midnight in Paris. by Chris Herrington 06/09/2011

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