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‘Midnight in Paris’ an Allen success

Woody's back with a whimsical comedy that recalls city's classic characters

POSTED: June 9, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Nobody does a cinematic love letter better than Woody Allen. "Manhattan" is the greatest example of this, of course, but "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" exuded Allen's affection for Spain.

Now he turns his camera and his heart toward Paris - but he doesn't just celebrate the actual city, he celebrates the legendary people we associate with Paris of the past.

It goes like this.

Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancee Inez (Rachel MacAdams) tag along for a Parisian vacation with Inez's parents, played perfectly passively aggressive by veteran character actors Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy.

Gil becomes enamored with Paris, or rather the Bohemian Paris of his imagination.

He waxes poetic about all the great artists and expatriates who created masterpieces in the city.

Superficial and entitled Inez, meanwhile, is turned off by Paris, which doesn't cater to her like she feels it should.

Gil is a self-proclaimed "Hollywood hack," a screenwriter for hire who is now trying to write a novel. It's an earnest attempt at creating literature, and Inez subtly undercuts his confidence.

We quickly see troubling cracks in the pretty façade of Gil and Inez's relationship.

This latent tension starts to bubble to the surface when they run into Paul (Michael Sheen) and Carol (Nina Arianda), fellow Americans on holiday.

Paul is a professor who insists on turning every encounter into a pedantic lecture. He's so pretentious that when the foursome go on a museum tour, Paul corrects the tour guide about the sculptor Rodin's marital status.

Inez, meanwhile, finds Paul intellectual and fascinating.

It's all too much for Gil, so one night after having too much wine, he walks Paris alone.

Lost but OK with that, he rests on the steps of a church. The bells ring midnight, and suddenly a bunch of revelers dressed as flappers and dandies roll up in a classic Peugeot and pull Gil into the car.

They go to a private party, where everyone is decked out in Jazz-era clothes. A woman named Zelda (Alison Pill) introduces herself and her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston). They then go to a pub, where Gil meets Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll).

Is Gil dreaming? Drunk and hallucinating? Has he gone back in time?

I won't spoil exactly how this is happening, but it goes on for several wonderful nights.

Gil meets Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), who critiques his novel. Salvador Dalí, played exuberantly by Adrien Brody, sketches Gil in a café (adding in a melting clock and a rhinoceros!) while Gil confides about his love life. Gil meets a number of the great writers and artists who worked in Paris in the '20s, even becoming accepted into their inner circle.

Gil also falls in love with Adriana (Marion Cotillard), the ravishing mistress of Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), which begins to complicate his daytimes with Inez.

If this all sounds rather silly and fantastic, well that's the point.

"Midnight in Paris" plays around with the personas of many legendary artists. It is almost the sole attraction of the film.

Viewers will consider this either the movie's greatest strength or weakness. If you don't go in knowing something about the artists, much of the comedy won't mean much to you.

However, those who do have preconceptions about Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Dalí, etc., might find it the funniest movie of the year.

The performances are simply joyous. Corey Stoll deserves a supporting actor Oscar for the way he revels in the desperate machismo and veiled insecurities of Hemingway.

Pill and Huddleston play Zelda and Scott with all the love, neuroses and excess we would expect. And it's so nice to see Owen Wilson in a good movie again.

"Midnight in Paris" is like taking a vacation in one of the most romanticized moments of the 20th century, and what could possibly be better than that?

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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