If you imagine Owen Wilson in the leading role, you’re probably picturing something like Wedding Crashers or Zoolander. Woody Allen’s magnificently sentimental and nostalgic Midnight in Paris (2011) defies those raunchy norms and launches Wilson into a role that lingers sweetly in the imagination. Mixing literary and artistic references with romance, surrealism, and intrigue, Midnight in Paris is a genre-mash that succeeds in its aims rather brilliantly.
A Simple Plot
Midnight in Paris is a modern movie set against the marvelous backdrop of Paris, where its main American characters are staying on vacation. Owen Wilson plays Gil, a successful yet dissatisfied Hollywood screenwriter dreaming of the golden days of the Roaring Twenties. Gil is weighted down in his nostalgia by his overbearing fiancée played by Rachel McAdams (who also starred alongside his Wedding Crashers character). One evening Gil discovers that, when standing at a certain spot after the final stroke of midnight, a 1920s vehicle picks him up and carries him back to Paris in the twenties.
Here Gil meets master writers and artists such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, and many more. Having finally found an audience for his own struggling novel, Gil finds himself in raptures over his discovery and quickly sees his present paling in comparison to the past. In 1920s Paris, Gil has found, alive, the intellectual community he idolized in the present.
A Sparkling Cast
Owen Wilson may be cast as the same general character for most, if not all, of his movies- and yet no one cares. Why? Because Owen Wilson does Owen Wilson best. He is tremendously easy to connect with and therefore a pleasure to watch. Rachel McAdams does a phenomenal job of making you love to hate her, and the 1920s cast is star-studded with equally talented and memorable character performances. A few of these are:
- Scott Fitzgerald – Tom Hiddleston
- Zelda Fitzgerald – Alison Pill
- Ernest Hemingway – Corey Stoll
- Gertrude Stein – Kathy Bates
- Salvador Dali – Adrian Brody
Not to mention outstanding work done by Marion Cotillard and Michael Sheen. Nothing feels particularly false about this movie and its acting, and perhaps that’s because its overall genial atmosphere was absorbed by its actors and transformed into a wonderful and well-collaborated performance.
A Timeless Message
What really is the “golden age?” What really is love, war, art, talent? Midnight in Paris takes on deep philosophical topics without ever feeling heavy or pretentious. It reveals flaws in its characters while simultaneously gracing them with their positive attributes. And, above all, it allows Owen Wilson’s character to probe questions that seem obvious but have, in reality, complex, unclear, and meandering answers.
No, Midnight in Paris is not a perfect movie. However, it does successfully draw deeper thoughts, louder laughs, and longer sighs from its audience in turns. Woody Allen has created a wonderful piece of magic that is as sweetly timeless as the city of Paris itself.