Paris in the rain. It’s a romantic notion for some. For Gil (Owen Wilson), a successful Hollywood writer and aspiring novelist, there’s no better place in the world, except perhaps the 1920’s.
In Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” nostalgia is at the heart of the story. Gil is a nostalgic soul, visiting Paris with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy).
While his future wife and in-laws plan their future, Gil imagines the possibilities of the past and yens for strolls by the Seine, afternoons spent in small cafes, or perhaps even to have lived in his golden age–Paris of the 1920’s (in the rain). But what are the odds of that happening?
SPOILER ALERT: This is a buffer zone. If you don’t want the surprise of this movie ruined stop reading now.
Although, if you’re truly one of “those people” you’ve probably already seen this movie, or guessed based on my preceding question what the spoiler is.
Nonetheless, here’s another buffer paragraph, just in case you thought you could deal with the devastation but are now second-guessing that choice. Your grace period is about to end. Plots and details are about to be revealed. Brace yourself…
After a long day of a forced trip to Versailles with Inez’s old college friend, the pedantic Paul (Michael Sheen), followed up with a wine-tasting (on which Paul is also an expert), Gil finds himself lost somewhere on the streets of Paris. As the clock strikes midnight, a car from a bygone era approaches and we’re off.
Before Gil or the audience can contemplate the wisdom of getting into a car full of strangers who are speaking a language he doesn’t understand, we find ourselves…I mean Gil…being introduced to F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his vivacious, spontaneous wife, Zelda (Allison Pill).
As Gil bumps elbows with the likes of Cole Porter (Yves Heck), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Salvador Dali (Adrian Brody), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), and his (Pablo’s) lovely mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard), it becomes more and more clear that his ultimate fantasy has come true. He has found his Paris of the 1920’s…literally.
Inspired by his nightly journeys to the past, some constructive criticism from Gertrude Stein on his novel, and a budding romance between him and Adriana (is it cheating if it’s in a different decade?), we begin to wonder which world he will choose.
This literal living in the past proposes a not so metaphorical question about the wisdom of having such nostalgic ambitions. Of course, a healthy knowledge of the past will undoubtedly ease your understanding of this film, but accepting your present is a part of life, and a lesson that Gil begins to understand when Adriana speaks of her idealization of the Belle Époque–her golden age.
Woody Allen’s use of caricatures rather than historically accurate representations of his world of the 1920’s makes the past far more accessible (even to those of us without a doctorate on the decade) and incredibly entertaining. The recognizable characteristics and quick-witted world is elegant and smart, defined by the geniuses (and Gil’s understanding of them) that inhabited it.
However, this use of caricature is by no means contained in the past. Even in the present day everyone is defined by one personality trait. Gil’s a romantic. Inez is a realist. Her parents are suspicious of Gil. They are one-dimensional characters in the truest sense. It works.
We can see these worlds and their inhabitants for what they are and imagine what else they might be. Plus, who couldn’t love Paris in the rain?
Check out more of 2WC’s film reviews: The Crusade on Cinema