Thursday, 7 March 2013

Midnight In Paris: a slightly more charming episode of the BBC’s charmless time-travel sit-com Goodnight Sweetheart

Midnight In Paris

It’s that special time of year folks.  Every year, for the last 35 (ever since 1977’s Annie Hall), regular as a bran-eating pensioner, normally around nowish but always in plenty of time to qualify for the Oscars, Woody Allen has released a film. 

Sometimes they’ve been funny.  Sometimes they’ve been serious.  More often than not they’ve involved a neurotic, nebbish intellectual (often played by Woody himself), usually a writer, falling for a younger woman.  Woody just can’t help himself when it comes to the young stuff. 

All your deeply middle-class friends will tell you how good it is.  The critics will heap it with praise, applauding it as a long-awaited return to form and his best film in years.  It’ll be nominated for Academy Awards but will rarely win any and Woody will spend Oscar night playing clarinet in a Manhattan jazz club pretending he doesn’t care.  Just like last year.  And the year before that.  And the year before that.

It may be dawning on some of you that I am not a Woody Allen fan.

This week, with very little fanfare, Woody Allen’s latest film Midnight In Paris hits our screens and all Woody’s favourite obsessions are present and correct.  Thankfully, at 75, Woody obviously feels a little ungainly traipsing the streets of Paris in search of nubile trim, so he’s cast Frat Pack-stalwart and nasal whiner Owen Wilson as his neurotic stand-in.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood screenwriter holidaying in Gay Paree with his uptight fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams), her rich, loathsome parents and pseudo-intellectual friend Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife.  As this bunch of philistines denigrate the city Gil loves and is inspired by, he finds himself drunkenly wandering the streets agonising, over the manuscript of the novel.  As luck would have it, on the stroke of midnight, a car full of drunken revellers, Zelda and F.Scott Fitzgerald among them, shanghais Gil back to the 1920s and pretty soon he’s hanging out with Hemingway, getting advice on his novel from Gertrude Stein(the always wonderful Kathy Bates), pitching ideas to Bunel and falling in love with Picasso’s latest muse Adriana (Marion Cotillard).  Then it’s off to the Belle Epoque for dinner and absinthe with Toulouse-Lautrec, Gaugin and Degas.  Will Gil dump Inez and live in the past with Adriana?  Is Gil just running away from life?  And what does Gertrude Stein think of his book?

Like a slightly more charming episode of the BBC’s charmless time-travel sit-com Goodnight Sweetheart, Midnight In Paris is whimsical fluff that feels a little like an advert for the French Tourist Board crossed with that episode of The Simpsons where the family went to London on holiday just so Tony Blair and Richard Branson could have cameos.  Look!  There’s French First Lady and chanteuse Carla Bruni as a tour guide!  It’s all a bit gorgeous, as picture postcard a vision of Paris as his visions of New York and London.  This is a litter-free Paris where a drunk American can wander the streets late at night, free from mugging and beggars.  This is a Paris that doesn’t smell of wee.  In short, this is a fantasy Paris, a Paris of the mind.

Wilson makes a refreshingly affable, laid-back Woody stand-in and Marion Cotillard plays down her usual crazy as the big-eyed temptation from the past while the likes of Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody and Tom Hiddleston are on fine comic form as the historical buddies Gil makes who advise him on life, art, writing and love.  Brody is particularly funny as Salvador Dali who sees absolutely nothing odd about Gil’s surreal, tangled, time-travelling love-life.

Neither as great as Woody Allen fans will want it to be, nor as bad as I wanted it to be, Midnight In Paris is frothy, lightweight fun you’ll have forgotten by this time next week.  Apparently, he’s shooting his next film in Rome.  Can’t wait.   

David Watson

Woody Allen
Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Marion Cottilard, Tom Hiddleston, Michael Sheen
Running time
94 minutes

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