Every other Woody Allen film the past decade has been billed a ‘return to form’; however that theory has altered in the last six years. His last two films Whatever Works (2009) and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) both underwhelmed critics and although Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) was an irreverent success, its predecessors Scoop (2006) and Cassandra’s Dream (2007) were certainly not after the excellent Match Point (2005).
By de facto law then, Midnight in Paris had to triumph and thanks to its punchy premise it does, underlining again how Allen is just as skilled a filmmaker on foreign shores as he is in his beloved New York. The romance and the comedy is intact without veering into the banality of a rom-com, but nostalgia fuels the reverence for his latest picture thanks to the charming time-travel aspect, as Owen Wilson’s downtrodden Hollywood writer Gil winds up in 1920s Paris when the bell chimes at midnight.
Stultified by his fiancée (Rachel McAdams)’s pushiness and the pedantry of her ubiquitous college pal Michael Sheen, a nocturnal stroll leads to a Peugeot Landaulet whisking Gil into the Golden Age of La Ville-Lumière where he meets F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Salvador Dalí (a flamboyant Adrien Brody) amongst others, to the soundtrack of Cole Porter, played by Cole Porter. It is during his wistful ventures that he becomes smitten with Marion Cotillard’s alluring Adriana when he finds himself in a quandary.
Allen revealed that this is his first film to go through a digital intermediate instead of being colour timed in the traditional photochemical way, as he explores whether to deploy the method on future films. His timing is impeccable as Paris is presented beautifully by Se7en’s atmospheric cinematographer Darius Khondji, aided by seasoned French cameraman Johanne Debas, with an immersive panache whether it’s the city’s past or present, day or night.
Performances come secondary to the grandeur of not only Paris but a grandiose cameo by Versailles, although Wilson, prone to monotony, excels in a more sophisticated comedy that recalls his early performances under Wes Anderson. Cotillard’s magnetism is intensified by her 20s garments while McAdams and on-screen Republican parents Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller fence with Wilson’s left-wing idealist in a couple of wry exchanges.
The romantic element is diluted by its hackneyed inexorableness in the present but the fish out of water facet is charming and light. Paris sizzles.