Review: Midnight in Paris

Something very strange happened in cinemas across America over the summer, something that hadn't happened for a very long time: people, a lot of people, went to see a Woody Allen film.

Why? Almost every Woody film since Bullets Over Broadway has found someone prepared to hail it as a return to form, but repeated grim disappointment had taught audiences to ignore these false claims.

This, though, is indeed a good Woody Allen film; not great but one that can be enjoyed without too many making allowances for. It doesn't start well, though.

The opening is an unimaginative slideshow of Paris scenes that could have been selected by any passing tourist before we are introduced to our protagonist Gil (Owen Wilson) who is an archetypal Allen figure – a successful but unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter who yearns to be a great novelist and is obsessed with the Paris of the 1920s.

A few years from now when I'm battling feral youths for food and fuel in an apocalyptic wasteland I will look back on the career of Woody Allen. He might possibly have lived the most charmed life the 20th century had to offer – beautiful cities, beautiful women, the most indulged career of any filmmaker –and somehow still felt dissatisfied and hard done by and marvel at how spectacularly western civilisation misallocated its resources during its period of rule.

After the Manhattan style opening, it shifts into the fantasy territory of Purple Rose of Cairo: while on a midnight stroll Gil finds himself magiced back to the Paris of the 1920s.

It is remarkable how little Allen has developed over a 60-year career – he started out in his stand-up days making jokes about hanging out with Hemingway, Picasso, Stein and the Fitzgeralds, and now he's got to film it.

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In fact, what really makes Midnight in Paris work is that, remarkably, Owen Wilson turns out to be the best surrogate Woody ever; or at least on a par with Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters. His relaxed charm just dissolves all objections.

Allen loves a good city and it's clear that Paris rank up there with New York in his affections. Allen made four films in London but didn't lavish it with a fraction of the adoration Paris gets.

Odd, though, that this celebration of the French capital is almost devoid of French people.


Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Tom Hiddleston and Kathy Bates

Length: 94 mins