Who among us hasn’t been lured to Paris because of the romance of a bygone era—a time when Ernest Hemingway took his Moveable Feast across the French capital, cavorting with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Such is the basis of Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, a movie starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen as modern-day visitors to the city, with Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates and Adrian Brody tagging along as denizens of 1920s Paris.
If Mr. Allen doesn’t have a place in his heart for Paris, he certainly has everyone fooled. Because as much as this film is one of his typical character-driven comedies, it’s also a thoroughly romantic homage to the City of Lights. The opening montage alone—a visual tour of Paris’ iconic landmarks and charming back streets—is enough to incite an acute case of homesickness for those separated from the city they hold so dear.
The main character, Gil Pender (Wilson), is a highly successful Hollywood screenwriter engaged to the lovely-but-brittle Inez (McAdams). Gil wants to ditch his career to move to Paris and write his novel about a man who works at a nostalgia shop. The couple are vacationing in Paris with her overbearing, wealthy Republican parents when they have a chance encounter with Inez’s friend Paul (Sheen), one of those pseudo-intellectuals who comes across as knowledgeable about virtually every subject, but who in actuality mangles the facts and is, in truth, horribly pedantic.
On an outing with Paul and his wife Carol at the Musée Rodin, the two couples are engaged by a private guide, played by French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Though initially seeming to be a toss-away cameo, Bruni’s character does play a fairly pivotal role later in the film.
Gil, finally tiring of Paul’s inane intellectual posturing, splits from the group one night and gets lost as he tries to navigate his way back to the hotel (Le Bristol). As the church bells sound at midnight, a vintage limousine pulls up, the door opens and Gil is transported back to 1920s Paris, a time he romanticizes as the golden age of the city. There he is befriended by the likes of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, who soon introduces him to Gertrude Stein. He also encounters Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Salvador Dali, Josephine Baker, Luis Buñuel, T. S. Eliot, Cole Porter and Juan Belmonte.
Kathy Bates is wonderful as Gertrude Stein, holding court and conversations in French, English and Spanish and providing Gil with advice on his novel. Corey Stoll’s Hemingway is a brilliant characterization of the writer, his manner of speech perfectly mimicking Hemingway’s style of writing. Adrien Brody’s all-too-brief turn as the surrealist Salvador Dali (“Dah-LEE”) is hysterical. And, of course, there’s the luminescent Marion Cotillard, playing one of Picasso’s fictional mistresses and the obvious object of Gil’s affections.
In fact, while Gil tries to come to grips with his growing feelings for Cotillard’s Adriana and his conflicted feelings for Inez, it’s his eventual epiphany about the past and present that brings the film full circle .
One of the best parts about watching a Woody Allen film is watching Allen himself perform – even when he’s not in the movie. In Midnight in Paris, Owen embodies Allen’s iconic persona, with all of the stuttering, rambling and bumbling that goes with it. He is both the smartest man in the room and the most clueless one; a man with so little awareness of his ego that being the fool is his true charm.
But, again, the real star of the movie is Paris, itself, and to that end the city should most certainly be considered for an Oscar® nomination. Every nuance that makes Paris so indelibly unique has been captured digitally, from the cobblestone streets to the winding alleys of the Marché aux puces St-Ouen de Clignacourt, to the restaurants and shops and people.
Fans of Woody Allen will most certainly enjoy this film, while those who love Paris will find it a visual and moveable feast, indeed. The film’s locations include some of Paris’s most cherished sites, including: the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, the grounds and Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, Monet’s Gardens at Giverny, Musée Rodin, Musée des Arts Forains, Marché Paul Bert (flea market), Rue Montagne St. Genevieve (where Gil goes at midnight), Notre Dame Garden Square – Jean XXXIII (where the museum guide translates for Gil), Place Dauphin, Maxim’s, Quai de la Tournelle (book stalls), Pont Alexandre III, along with the restaurants Le Grand Véfour, Les Lyonnais, and Lapérouse.
For those who want to step back into Hemingway’s Paris, here are a few of the author’s favorite haunts from his years in the city – places that are still around today:
Café de Flore (172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006)
Brasserie Lipp (151 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006)
Closerie des Lilas (171 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006)
Le Dôme Café (108 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75014 Metro: Vavin)
Dreyolle (46 rue du Bac, 75007)
Shakespeare & Co. (37 Rue Bûcherie, 75005)