Woody Allen’s latest film shows all the hallmarks of classic Woody Allen fare (and that in itself is no bad thing); a neurotic leading character who writes for a living, a relationship on the brink of collapse, a know-it-all male rival, a younger female interest, families with money, and, of course, a beautiful jazz score. This time round Owen Wilson plays the character Allen would have played himself 10 years ago or more, but with the writing this time isn’t as sceptical and the characters not as self-destructive as they have been in recent outings (You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Cassandra’s Dream, and Whatever Works).
The story, like most of Allen’s best work, is a simple one. As the clock strikes midnight in Paris, Gil (Wilson) gets transported to the 1920s where he meets artists and writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and more. He makes friends with them despite not knowing how or why he got there; they never question his existence in their world and Gil is free to enjoy another life, away from his doomed relationship. The how and why of this time-travel is never hinted at or explained, and we never stop our enjoyment of watching the film to even ask. The beauty of Allen’s ability as a writer is that he can make us believe in anything; like The Purple Rose of Cairo and Everybody Says I Love You, his latest work is deliberately and knowingly fantastical and unapologetically so. He remains the most consistent screenwriter working today.
The brilliance of Midnight In Paris asks the questions: Is there a more consistent filmmaker making movies today than Woody Allen? Consistent in his screenwriting, his directional style (of which I will praise later), his ability to still have A-list actors queuing up to work with him but also his seemingly effortless knack of getting the best out of them. How refreshing it must be to work on a Woody Allen film with a green screen seldom in sight.
Having seen nearly 40 of his 46 films as director, I still find his directorial style, his sheer understanding of camera movement and his respect for his audience a joy to watch. Unlike many of the great film makers who came to prominence in the 1970s (think Spielberg, Scorsese, De Palma) Allen’s style has not dramatically altered since his early days; a simple camera set up or dolly shot with very few cuts in a single scene. He allows a scene to unfold before our eyes and rarely brings to the attention anything unnatural about the film making process. Never will a camera go through a keyhole, under a car, or make any unnecessary movement.
Keen fans of Allen’s work will notice that Midnight in Paris does not begin with the trademark black screen and white titles in the Windsor Light Condensed font. Instead, we are treated to shots of Paris, as perfectly framed as a moving postcard, over a jazz score. It is the only time other than Deconstructing Harry and Manhattan (that I can recall) where Allen has interrupted his own pattern. As to the reason why, I really couldn’t say, but it was interesting to see.
VERDICT: This is as enjoyablea film as I have seen all year and will surely make my list of year’s top 10.
8.5 OUT OF 10