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Forward Into the Past

by Laura Leon on June 15, 2011

Midnight in Paris
Directed by Woody Allen

This lushly filmed valentine to the City of Lights is a return to form for Woody Allen, whose last film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, really stank.

Midnight in Paris follows wannabe novelist Gil (Owen Wilson, pictured right)—already a successful Hollywood screenwriter, but yearning for legitimacy—as he explores the avenues of Paris. He ends up finding a sort of time machine (actually, a really glam old car), which takes him to assorted bars and the salon of Gertrude Stein, where he rubs shoulders with Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Dali and Elliott. It’s a dream come true for Gil, who gets Stein to critique his manuscript, but his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams, pictured left) and her stodgy parents suspect another, perhaps more nefarious purpose to his midnight forays.

As Gil is transported to the past, and to the attention of beautiful fashion designer Adrianna (Marion Cotillard), he finds himself torn between the lure of nostalgia and creative genius, and the practicality of his real-world life. He tries to get Inez involved, but she can’t see beyond her annoyance that her fiancé is turning into something of a weirdo, or her little veiled infatuation with a pedantic English professor (Michael Sheen). Wilson is the perfect actor to evoke the sense of romantic yearning, of promises not yet fulfilled, and it’s this sweetness that helps us buy the whole time-travel thing. For their parts, Kathy Bates (as Stein), Corey Stoll (Hemingway) and Adrien Brody (Dali) seem to be having the time of their lives.

As Gil and Adrianna debate which is the most marvelous historical and literary period, Allen brings to the fore his chief concern, which is how we temper our dissatisfaction—about life, love, career—with the occasional injection of hope and aspiration. Gil may not find his future in the past, but he certainly finds his center, his reason for living, in the city itself.