We all delve into a little bit of “golden age thinking” from time to time, the thought that our present is far less exciting and meaningful than the past. Perhaps some of us look back to the 1980’s, studying the
pastels of Miami Vice and the music that made the time period seem so carefree. Others may look to the 50’s or the 60’s, but Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), the lead character in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011), dreams of wandering through the city of love in the 1920’s.
With some beautiful and enchanting movie magic in tow, he gets to do just that. He gets to travel back in time to visit Paris – when it sizzled. Don’t let the seemingly cheesy premise fool you. Midnight in Paris is one of few films that transforms itself into an experience. There’s no goofy sci-fi explanations or gadgets here, but instead a clever story device that takes us back to an age where artists, writers, and singers flocked to Paris to contribute to the
community and find inspiration. Unfortunately, Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter itching to become a novelist, arrives 90 years too late, but that doesn’t stop him from falling in love with the city and its history. His wife, played by Rachel McAdams, seems less than thrilled, passing on midnight walks through the cobbled streets in favour of fancy wine tours and shopping sprees.
It’s on one of his late-night strolls that Pender stumbles into the past and finds himself face-to-face with the likes of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. It’s a reveal that is just as magical for the audience as it is for Pender before Allen’s signature brand of comedy chimes in. His writing dances on a fine line between fact and myth as he introduces these iconic figures and works them into the plot.What makes the trip all the more alluring for Pender is a beautiful woman, one who seems in touch with her surroundings, and who plays to his natural and romantic nature. So, while his wife navigates the touristy Paris in the present day, Pender is tempted to cheat on her in the past. Only Woody Allen could write such a morally twisted story without making you judge its lead character.
In fact, you hope that he finds what he’s looking for, as his wife and in-laws are deplorable characters that highlight the pompous nature of the American upper class. Try pitching this film to your friends and mention Owen Wilson’s involvement and they’ll probably doubt everything you’ve said. His name often conjures up images of a stoned Californian surfer rather than a writer that emulates Allen’s neurotic persona, but Wilson delivers.
His witty and philosophical words are Allen’s, but the performance is his own. You can’t help but relate as his character dashes back and forth though time, driven by his infatuation with the city and an enchanting woman within it. It’s his schoolboy charm that inspires the character and empowers our connection with him. Midnight in Paris is a feel-good film. It will warm you with the amber glow of the Paris street lamps, will make you laugh with its impossible premise and how its icons are presented, and will enchant you with an escape that will make you forget all of your troubles – after all, that is what Pender is running from.
But even Paris in the 1920s has its problems, and the past beyond it can seem like a worthwhile dose of nostalgia to those who called the 1920’s home.
What to Watch Next:
The Rewrite and Magic in the Moonlight