I’m going to go ahead and start by saying Midnight in Paris may actually be my favorite movie from 2011 altogether. It is coupled with my Ryan Gosling fix thanks to Drive and the hero-creating tour de force that is Bridesmaids (here’s looking at you, Kristen Wiig), but if I had to pick one film it just might be this Woody Allen gem.
I’ll admit I wasn’t thrilled to go see Midnight in Paris, despite its almost ubiquitous praise. I love the Woody Allen of the 1970s, but at the risk of sounding like my father, his more recent comedies just couldn’t hold a Gershwin songbook to his classics like Manhattan and Annie Hall. While I hesitate to claim that Midnight has the staying power of those films, I must assert that it is one of the most well-crafted, lovely, enjoyable films I’ve seen in a great while.
It’s a simple enough story of a man named Gil (Owen Wilson) traveling to Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her parents (Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller), where he encounters a bit of an existential crisis while wandering the streets at night thanks to an inexplicable, mysterious happening. The film includes talented players like Marion Cotillard, Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates and Michael Sheen and each of them plays their part like a fiddle. Sheen, especially, lends delightful vigor to his pandering pseudo-intellectual who seems to garner so much of Inez’ easily stolen attention. And of course, there’s Wilson, who’ve I yet to appreciate sufficiently in any role that wasn’t in a Wes Anderson movie. In Midnight his spastic exuberance is perfectly suited to his struggling and often dumbfounded character, yet he allows Gil to stay grounded enough for his journey to maintain its meaningful nature to those of us in the real world.
And meaningful, the story is. What’s so perfect about this plot is that it weaves in a rather significant question about life and what it means to seek and find happiness without really letting us realize just how heavily we’re weighing the topic. The tone of the film is light and fancy free; an hour and a half of whimsy and fun, yet by the end, we’ve completed an almost spiritual journey. Add to it that the journey of which we speak is absolutely breathtaking and you can see why just talking about this film gets me so excited.
Like Manhattan was to New York City, this Allen film is a love letter to grand ol’ Paris (you should read that as Par-ee, or it sounds a little clunky). While Gil embarks on his nightly Parisian adventures or drags his feet as Sheen’s character high jacks a tour of the city’s finest art, we’re delighted with loving depictions of the city of lights in the simple, unadorned style we came to know in Allen’s previous films. The result is a humble, yet loving picture of one of the world’s greatest cities; it’s the perfect mate for this sweet, albeit unconventional little existential story.
There’s little more I can say about the film without giving away its most delicious twist, but I’ll suffice to say the former Literature Major in me found great joy in the script’s historical details, as Paris is one of the epicenters of one of Western Literature’s greatest periods. But as pretentious as that sounds, it shouldn’t deter viewers. Allen’s latest masterpiece is one of those films that has the ability to delight audiences from all walks of life, and if memory serves me correctly, it did just that over the Summer.
It may not be the type of film that will earn itself an Oscar, but when it comes to the Golden Globes or the Screen Actors Guild Awards, I depend on those ceremonies to pick up the pieces that fall through the cracks of the Academy’s often stuffy standards. And should these voting bodies hear my cry, I’ll be thrilled to see this film garner at least a sliver of the praise it deserves.
What did you think of Midnight in Paris? Would you give it an award if you had the chance? Share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter (@KelseaStahler).