Connect with us


Midnight in Paris | Review

Amongst the Monet’s, Picasso’s, and Cezanne’s, Allen’s latest sits stylistically flat-footed

Woody Allen continues his Euro tour with a cloying and conventional vision of Paris and its ‘character’. Viewing the film in a French film festival is especially cringe-inducing, as the tropes of an American-made film set in the nation’s capital – even if it is made by their darling Allen – could only induce a ‘not again’ response. Painting the plot under a dream-like, fantastical gloss – recalling his sharper and more original Purple Rose of Cairo – make the film fun and occasionally amusing, but it invariably adds to the superficial dissection of a place that is not as one-dimensional as the movies make it seem.

The film follows a hack screenwriter-cum-novelist Gil (Owen Wilson), who escapes his noxious vacation with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents by partying with legendary, deceased artists from France past. One after another, Gil becomes acquainted with Hemingway, Picasso, Fitzgerald, Dali, and more, getting valuable career advice from them, while pitching in his own bit of ironic advice. Under this set-up, the movie’s pitfalls appear downright meta, but it doesn’t make for a novel approach to the format.

A love letter to the City of Light, Midnight works towards creating an insatiable desire for nostalgia, showing how love is embedded in the unfamiliar. When Gil finds himself falling for one of his idols, he questions the reasons for his love, and whether it’s even possible to be enamored with our own place and epoch. Gil has a revealing conversation with Picasso’s muse Adrian in which she longs for the 1890s, calling it ‘the golden age’, when she herself was living in the 1920s, which is Gil’s idea of the golden age. In Allen’s world, it’s all relative.

While the ideas are interesting enough, it’s the irksome script that is the most problematic. The art references are revealed in a repetitive, hokey manner that asks the audience to be as surprised as Gil is when each of his idols reveals his or her name. This is played for laughs a good eight times, and as the role call fills out, the Art Lesson 101 vibe thickens, appealing to figures, movements, and ideas only grasped by the lowest common denominator. Allen’s typical esoteric jokes are nowhere to be seen.

Dialogue is recognizably Allen’s, serving as a reminder of the crisp wit he’s capable of without even trying. Stilted performances are to be expected in his films, but the characters here are one-dimensional nearly across the board (Marion Cotillard, however, is not bad), especially McAdams’ Inez, who offset any mounting drama in the resolution of her life with Gil by being irredeemably detestable.

Lensing and the all-around palette are competent but unremarkable. The photography looks all the more quaint when a Monet or Picasso flops into the frame, damning the flat, neutral tones with a sorely lacked rhythm, shape, and actual compositional style.

Well over a decade ago, we acknowledged that Allen had lost his edge, or part of his arsenal of brushstrokes, or something, but in the meantime, he’s balanced his output between the daringly out-there, and the bizarrely vanilla. Midnight in Paris no doubt belongs in the latter category, and plays like a watered-down version of his better films. For all its quips about art and magic, this is an awfully artless rendering of life and art anywhere, but especially for Paris.

Reviewed on May 12th, 2011 – Cannes Film Festival Opening Film

Rating 2 stars

Continue Reading
You may also like...

Blake Williams is an avant-garde filmmaker born in Houston, currently living and working in Toronto. He recently entered the PhD program at University of Toronto's Cinema Studies Institute, and has screened his video work at TIFF (2011 & '12), Tribeca (2013), Images Festival (2012), Jihlava (2012), and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Blake has contributed to's coverage for film festivals such as Cannes, TIFF, and Hot Docs. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Coen Bros. (Fargo), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Code Unknown), Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), Kar-wai (Happy Together), Kiarostami (Where is the Friend's Home?), Lynch (INLAND EMPIRE), Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Van Sant (Last Days), Von Trier (The Idiots)

Click to comment

More in Reviews

To Top