The Review: You might remember the days when Woody Allen made universally acclaimed films. Sadly, in the eyes of most, the last time that happened consistently was probably the Eighties, and since 1989’s Crimes And Misdemeanours it’s been a succession of moderate successes and critical flops. But nostalgia is a powerful feeling, and every time a new film appears with Woody’s name on, you can feel everyone lining up, ready to give it a kicking but most actually hoping that somehow the easy charm and clever dialogue of his earlier hits could still be recaptured. If only he could travel back in time to understand what made his earlier films so successful…
Maybe it’s that constant nostalgic reflection, or maybe it’s the inspiration of the latest city to be his muse after his mixed London years, but the inspiration for Midnight In Paris of that nostalgic element seems to have revitalised Woody, and this is probably his best film since the Eighties. It’s easy to claim that there’s a formula to a good Woody Allen film, but actually what makes this one so refreshing is his willingness to stick to the formula, albeit with a few subtle variations. A lot of his best work deals with the metaphysical and is rooted in high concept, from Zelig to The Purple Rose Of Cairo and Deconstructing Harry, to name just a few, and Midnight In Paris gets its gimmick from a completely different side to Paris that Owen Wilson’s Gil discovers after midnight.
What Woody’s never had a problem doing is assembling a great cast, and this is no exception. One of those subtle variations on the theme is the Woody avatar that the central character normally represents (if it’s not Woody himself of course), and Owen Wilson is at his extremely likeable best as the bemused and frustrated writer, but it’s a role that Wilson does bring different aspects to, not least a wide-eyed astonishment at the events unfolding. The likes of Michael Sheen and Rachel McAdams offer solid support, but the other stand out is Marion Cotillard as Wilson’s muse, who seems to attract men like flies and has most of them around her little finger. There’s also plenty of background roles with actors having huge amounts of fun, and Alison Pill and Adrien Brody especially light up the screen in their brief turns.
The irony, of course, is that a film that’s so obsessed with nostalgia manages to successfully recapture the magic of Woody Allen’s days gone by. Midnight In Paris is a light soufflé of a film and would probably blow away in a strong wind, but it’s a delight from start to finish and Allen gets the most out his slender concept. Key to the film’s success are Allen’s early Parisian navel-gazing, which means that once the plot kicks in, the pace fairly rattles along, that the cast make the most of their varied roles and that it’s all wrapped up satisfactorily at the end of the reasonable running time. For any Woody fans, they’ll be thrilled that their hero has managed to find himself once again; for the more general film fan, it’s a great concept executed in a thoroughly entertaining way, and let’s just hope it doesn’t take Mr Allen another twenty years to hit these heights again.
Why see it at the cinema: Paris hasn’t looked this good since Ratatouille, and Woody’s bringing the chuckles back so it’ll be a good night out with the middle classes.
The Score: 9/10