For over a decade, the Woody Allen we once knew has seemed pretty lost. He tried to find himself by leaving New York and exploring Europe. Even with the successes that has brought ("Match Point," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), he just hasn't been able to equal the success of his early days. However, "Midnight in Paris" shows that everyone's favorite neurotic Jew has not only rediscovered his voice, but figured out how to turn it into perfect comedic cinema.
"Midnight in Paris" details hack screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) as they venture through Paris. While Inez focuses on their wedding and future, Gil focuses on his first novel, and his dream of living in Paris in the 1920s. While trying to find inspiration for his work, Gil finds something totally unexpected in Paris after midnight. What he finds is a mystery that would feel almost like a crime to reveal.
I wouldn't call "Midnight in Paris" Allen's big comeback, because he's had so many comebacks over the years. When you make as many films as he does, there are bound to be misses. Yet, this is his first film in a long time that feels informative, free, and most importantly, fun. Sometimes, you don't have to sell your soul and buy a ticket for "Fast Five" in order to have fun at the movies.
"Midnight in Paris" is a mixture of everything Allen is great at. In the film, he is given a chance to mock the pretentious intellectuals of the world as he slips subtle literary references into the story. Its combined slapstick and whimsical tone made me think of "Sleeper." Its light and fast mood also evoked the great comedies of the era Gil wished he could have lived in.
Wilson, meanwhile, is the best Allen reincarnation there could possibly be. He perfectly takes on Allen's wisecracking, neurotic New Yorker-type personality. He delivers every line with the right amount of anxiety. The rest of the ensemble is utilized well. It would be easy for someone who is writing about themselves to only focus on the character based off of themselves, yet Allen never forgets that there are many people involved in Gil's life. Most notably is Michael Sheen as the way-too-sophisticated-for-his-own-good Paul and Kurt Fuller as Gil's always furious father-in-law. McAdams is also an always enjoyable screen presence even when she's being a cold and unsupportive girlfriend.
Oh yeah, and that writing. Comedy is one of the most intelligent forms of writing, yet few ever do it right. Only Allen can be so funny and so observant. After all, the greatest observations about life are the funniest ones.
Whether he be in New York, London, Barcelona, or Paris, setting is an essential part of every Allen story. Even with such strong characters, location is always key to the story. It usually sets the mood, whether that be uptight, mysterious, or free-spirited. In "Midnight in Paris," Paris might as well be the center of the entire universe. It exudes both light and life, it is the center of creation. Just as he knows his beloved New York so much, Allen acts as if he'd lived in Paris for centuries, nailing the culture down right.
As I continue to write this review, I am debating going deeper into the plot. It would be great for further discussion, yet I feel like I'd be ruining something. In a world where it's usually movies never keep their best parts unspoiled, "Midnight in Paris" offers plenty of surprises that are best to see for yourself. In one short film, the excitement of many years of culture, the beauty of a city, and the over-analyzing complexities of being a writer are captured. Most importantly, this film is just so full of joy. It is the very reason why escapism was created. And that is why it is my favorite film so far this year.