Review in a Hurry: At the stroke of midnight on a lonely Parisian street, Owen Wilson is transported from the present to the 1920's for witty banter with Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Salvador...as in Dali!
While not the laughfest that was Vicky Christina Barcelona, Midnight reveals a different side of Woody Allen, one that's kinda magical.
The Bigger Picture: Gil (Wilson) is vacationing in Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams). He loves the city (stunningly shot by cinematographer Darius Khondji). What Gil yearns for is a chance to live in the Paris of the past, specifically, the '20s. But that's impossible, right? (Even as a writer, Gil yearns for the past; his novel is about...nostalgia.) One night a curious gentleman in period clothes offers him a ride that does just that. Now in Paris circa '27 he hangs with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, their not-quite-as-famous friend Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and falls for Picasso's gal (the adorable Marion Cotillard). Finally, among these great thinkers his work will be appreciated! Or not...
With a neurotic guy, an enticing cityscape and characters who wax poetic about life, love and death, Midnight is vintage Woody Allen. The hook is Allen planting his hero in an alternate reality (no explanation required) where his idols are alive and still very opinionated. Adrien Brody has a nice cameo as Salvador Dali who loves to say his name repeatedly—surrealists amirite?!
As usual, Allen has assembled a big cast. But maybe too large? At a brisk 90 minutes, nearly all the actors make great entrances, but far too often are just dropped. Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) plays a snotty art know-it-all that's a hilarious foil to Wilson's Gil—and his character is essentially written out of the story by a line of dialogue halfway through.
Regardless, Allen has only a done a handful of films with otherworldly plotlines. Midnight, with a character who gets the ultimate wish fulfillment is one of the best. Sure, there are the great interactions with all those famous people, but the heart of the picture is how Gil begins to see a flaw in his way of thinking. In essence, he's not really moving forward at all, as an artist or just as a person.
Wilson, that clever dude from all those Wes Anderson pics, is a good fit in Allen's world. He still has those laid-back surfer eyes, but now they dart around with manic energy.
The notion that it's much easier to live in the past is something Allen is keenly aware of, being a filmmaker of nearly fifty films. That he keeps coming up with fresh ideas is impressive. He never loses that ear for great exchanges, even in the warm glow of a dreamlike European city.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Everything in the past is terrific, but then there's the stuff in the present. Gil can only visit his "new friends" at midnight, so the other part of the story is Gil dealing with Inez and her uptight parents. While kept afloat by the performances (McAdams is fun as a not-so-nice fiancée), things feel a bit too familiar. Like Gil, we can't wait to get back to Hemingway.