Midnight in Paris begins like a tourist video, with Allen rotating a series of static shots of the city in action. Yawn. The pedestrian start would be entirely forgivable if that old Allen spark were soon to follow.
The film’s big message is telegraphed early in the film by a minor character, and you’ll have to wait another 80-plus minutes to hear it announced once more. For a filmmaker who calls out pseudo-intellectuals at every turn, his latest feature simply isn‘t very bright.
The time traveling conceit here is creaky but amusing, and certainly reminiscent of Allen‘s ‘80s comedy The Purple Rose of Cairo, without being outright theft.
It’s fine that Allen stocks the romanticized past with cartoon versions of so many famous personalities. Hemingway tells war stories, Zelda and F. Scott bicker. Gertrude Stein lords over a pit stop for creative souls. Adrien Brody plays Salvador Dali with a comic gleam in his eye, ruminating over silly notions as if he were on the cusp of splitting the atom.
It might have made for a more intriguing film had these characters ended up like real people, but Allen is clearly gunning for fantasy here, and the cast is having a ball.
But did Allen have to fill the rest of the movie with cartoons, too? Poor McAdams bears the brunt of Allen’s wrath. She’s a shrill partner, constantly putting Gil down and talking up her uber-intellectual pal (Michael Sheen).
Inez’s parents, begrudgingly in Paris to cinch a business deal, might as well be labeled Ugly Americans 1 and 2.
“France is no friend of the U.S.,” the father informs Gil early in the film, setting up a crude political discussion with the liberal-loving scribe that arrives out of nowhere. This sucker punch, as John Nolte of Big Hollywood would call it, doesn’t move the story forward a single inch.
“You almost gotta be a demented lunatic” to be a Republican, Gil cries before adding to Inez how much he respects her father‘s views. Later, in a recalled conversation which makes no sense, we learn Gil called tea partiers “crypto fascist airhead zombies.”
It’s an odd statement from an auteur who wishes President Barack Obama had dictator-style powers for a spell.
Wilson is genetically appealing, a fine outside the box choice to play an Allen surrogate. He manages to mimic the writer/director’s tics, but it’s not the out and out imitation attempted by Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity. He’s still stuck with a rather unlikable character, a spoiled brat with a fragile ego.
It’s one thing that Allen’s films use the same font — again — for the opening credits, or that he embraces his standard, scratchy jazz scores for his films. But Midnight in Paris reveals an artist stuck in his own version of the past, one without the artistry to deliver his comic visions.