Midnight in Paris opens with an unhurried montage of scenes of Parisian life: people smoking outside cafes, walking around gardens and driving around town against such gorgeous backdrops as Notre Dame de Paris and l’Arc de Triomphe. Viewing this lovely sequence of images is akin to leisurely flipping through a scrapbook with animated photos. The effect is completely enchanting and refreshingly low-key.
The film centers around the Hollywood screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson), his obsession with the past (specifically 1920s Paris) and his struggle to write something of sincerity and worth. He and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) are visiting Paris on business; Rachel’s father is looking to close a deal with a French company. But while Inez and her parents see Paris merely as a nice place to visit, Gil is utterly smitten by the City of Lights and all the romance and history it has to offer.
One night, feeling particularly uninspired by the shallow pursuits of his fiancée and her friends, Gil wanders the moonlit streets of Paris and soon finds himself in an incredible situation. An antique motorcar rolls into view, its gaily dressed occupants beckoning him inside. To Gil’s wonder and delight, they arrive at an old-fashioned club and Gil soon comes face-to-face with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso.
Gil comes to realize that he has somehow been transported to the past, into the world he’s always dreamed about. The people he meets are impossibly real and larger-than-life. Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) is moody and passionate; his lover, Adriana (Marion Cotillard), is radiant yet wistful. It is Hemingway (Corey Stoll), however, who threatens to steal the entire film. He speaks as he writes: in short, powerful, declarative sentences. He recounts the horrors of war with quiet solemnity and proposes impromptu hunting expeditions with unbridled gusto. And he makes one of the most powerful speeches on love I have ever heard.
In contrast, nearly every present-day character besides Gil is insufferably self-centered and obnoxious. However, the pomposity of these characters elicits amused incredulity rather than anger or severe annoyance. These characters drive home Gil’s dissatisfaction with the present and his obsession with the past. The “Golden Age” of the 1920’s appears all the more tantalizing when one realizes that Inez’s snotty parents and her pedantic friends won’t be there.
Midnight in Paris, while utterly charming and delightfully romantic, has a definite touch of bittersweetness at its core. Gil’s road to happiness and fulfillment is not an easy one, but it is ultimately rewarding. This personal journey, coupled with slow, loving shots of the city and the warm tones of the bars make for an experience that is sure to uplift and inspire.