When we look back on the year in movies of 2011 we might see it as a pinnacle year for nostalgia. There were numerous super hero movies that have a long history in comic books. Super 8 was nothing if not a call back to the “good old days” of the 1980’s. We even saw a new muppet movie that valiantly tried to revive our felt covered friends. Enter Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, a film that is all about nostalgia.
Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) are an engaged couple tagging along with Inez’s mom (Mimi Kennedy) and dad (Kurt Fuller) in Paris. Gil is an author who makes his money writing screenplays for Hollywood films. Gil’s real passion is to become a great writer. He stopped writing Hollywood scripts he wasn’t proud of and started writing a novel centered on a nostalgia store owner. Inez and her parents think this is ridiculous. Gil should go for the money. From early on it’s made clear that Inez and her parents are all about the money. In fact, they’re so much about the money and themselves that it’s hard to believe that Gil would tolerate the trio let alone be engaged to the daughter.
Gil is all about the 1920’s. He not only knows it but he longs for it, so much so that he believes he was born too late. His romantic ideas of Paris in the ’20s cause him to roam the streets at night. He wants to take long walks in the rain and absorb every ounce of the city. All is normal until one evening an antique Peugeot pulls up, an overly friendly gentleman from another era pops out and invites Gil to hop in. Gil no longer dreams of another era, he’s in one. All his heroes from the ’20s are there. Great writers, artists and musicians. He can’t believe it. When he rushes out the door of a pub to get a draft of his novel for Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), he’s shocked to discover that the pub is no more. In it’s place is a laundry mat.
Gil struggles to convince his fiancée of the previous evening’s events. He himself isn’t completely convinced. He tries taking her to the spot where the car picked him up the night before but no one shows. Inez has little patience for Gil’s escapade so she goes back to the hotel. The clock strikes midnight and the car arrives on cue. Gil is transported back to 1920 again. This repeats every night. Inez tires of Gil’s disappearing acts each evening so she starts going out with an old friend who she still has feelings for. Inez’s father has a private investigator tail Gil. He’s convinced Gil is cheating on his daughter.
Owen Wilson’s performance makes this movie enjoyable. The actors playing the famous icons of yesteryear are also compelling. Inez and her parents however are close to intolerable, intentionally so, but that doesn’t make it any easier to understand why Gil spends a moment with them. There is no need to make these characters so unlikeable. The theme of the movie doesn’t need it and the attempts at humor feeding off the trio’s pompous behavior barely registers. Regardless, the meat of the film is spent with Gil and his time in the ’20s, which saves the film from getting mired in the less interesting dynamics between Gil, his fiancée and her parents.
The lesson Gil learns about the trap that can be nostalgia is a bit obvious but forgivable. After all, if the movies of 2011 are any indication, it’s a lesson that many of us need to be reminded about. Thankfully the lesson only takes a 90 minute runtime. You’ll rarely hear me complain about that.
Overall Midnight in Paris was an enjoyable film. It’s neither a full blown comedy nor is it ever a drama. In other words, it’s a Woody Allen film – with just enough quirkiness to make me like it but not love it.