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USA 2011
Directed by
Woody Allen
94 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

Midnight In Paris

Synopsis: A hack Hollywood screenwriter, Gil (Owen Wilson) with dreams of being a novelist visits Paris with his fiancé (Rachel McAdams) and her parents There he finds a portal to the 1920s where he meets the icons of  20th century literature.
Like a highly competent cabinet-maker, every year for the past two decades or so, Woody Allen has turned out a new piece of work – skilfully made using the best materials but a far cry from the highwater years 1977 (Annie Hall) to 1986 (Hannah And Her Sisters). Post-Mia Farrow, Allen scaled back his ambition and permuted into a seemingly compulsive but no more than safely efficient filmmaker. During this time, various of his output have enticed the occasional “return to form” cry from reviewers, but the general assessment has been one of qualitative slightness and, consequently, a diminishing reputation for the once-lauded director.

Although Midnight In Paris has had its fair share of critical encomiums (with an inexplicability that no doubt would amuse the director it was also a box office success grossing $120m worldwide and being Allen's most commercially successful film) it is very much of muchness  both in form and content with Allen's journeyman approach. He does retro very well (Radio Days, 1987, and Zelig,1983, are delights in this respect) and his Paris in the 1920s, in terms of production values, is classily done. But what lets his film down is a script (which in an other remarkable twist won an Oscar) which is largely a pastiche of Modernist name-dropping and formulaically recycled ideas albeit in a typically reassuring package. All the usual suspects of the 1920s American diaspora in Paris are ticked off and, too often, ticked off again and again whilst Owen Wilson plays the usual Allen schmuck protagonist, agonizing over his artistic credibility and worrying about dying but, as ever, getting the gal.

If the retro part of the film is pretty enough to look at though a grind to listen to, the contemporary part of the film, with puppy dog Gil tagging around after his vacuous betrothed and her smug parents is lame. Allen used to be a master of the witty one liner but one line is exactly what you get here as he makes fun of the Philistines. Michael Sheen appears briefly only to disappear without explanation, there’s a set-up about a gift that Gil has for his fiancé that simply evaporates and as usual, pretty women dote on Allen’s alter ego with inexplicable avidity. And for that matter why time-travelling Gil is accepted into the bosom of Gertrude Stein's literary salon is never explained. Better not to ask.

In what is a watered-down replay of the marvellous "Rhapsody In Blue" opening of Manhattan (1979), Midnight In Paris begins with picture-postcards views of the City of Lights, underscored by a bouncy trad jazz number. If the sound of that floats your boat then by all means hop aboard. If not, forget it. 

FYI: If you'd like to see the same subject-matter done well, hunt down Allen Rudolph's The Moderns (1988).




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