How many of you have harbored a desire to time-travel back to the 1920s (or any other vintage period for that matter)? I am sure I am not the only one. Some of us constantly experience a sense of disenchantment with the way the world has shaped up and has constant daydreams about going back to an era where things were much simpler and peaceful, where people were more well-behaved (with no smartphones and other distractions to stand in the way of good manners) and a time when people actually gave a damn about the arts. If you are one of these people, you’ll find yourselves identifying with the character Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson. Seasoned Woody Allen fans won’t take more than 5 seconds to guess that Gil is basically Allen himself. There is at least one character that has Allen’s traits in every film he makes. I can’t think of any other Owen Wilson role that is as memorable as the one he has portrayed here.
The film begins with a young couple, Gil and Inez, vacationing in Paris. Gil is a Hollywood screenwriter who thinks that he hasn’t really made anything worth talking about, creatively speaking. He is currently working on a novel about a man working in a nostalgia shop. Inez doesn’t seem to encourage this idea of his and tells him that he is better off staying a screenwriter. He is smitten by Paris and hopes to move there for good. Inez, on the other hand, wants to live with her parents back in the States. They chance upon Inez’s friend Paul, who Gil thinks is a first-class pseudo-intellectual and can’t stand the sight of him. One night, Gil gets drunk and finds himself lost in the streets of Paris. An automobile, seemingly from the 1920s and filled with passengers from that era, show up at midnight and invite him to join them. Although initially baffled, he is ecstatic when he soon finds out that he is at a 1920s (an year that he happens to have an affinity towards) party filled with an assorted list of famous literary figures from the past. He meets Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel, among others. This “time-travel” happens to Gil more than once. He also comes across Pablo Picasso and his lover Adriana and begins to develop an infatuation for her. Meanwhile, Inez and her parents start to suspiciously wonder about his late night wanderings and send a private detective on his trail. This leads to a few comical situations. At the same time, Gil comes to learn about some unpleasant secrets about Inez as well. He isn’t bothered much by all this as he has already met a girl named Gabrielle, who runs an antique shop and shares his mutual love for the Lost Generation.
Allen doesn’t really give us a clue as to what really happens to Gil during midnight. It could be Gil dreaming or it could be some sort of time-travel (Woody Allen style, of course). One of my favorite scenes is the one where Gil tells Luis Bunuel about a story idea, which Bunuel thinks doesn’t make any sense. The perplexed expression on his face is priceless. Those who have seen a certain Bunuel film with this particular story will let out a chuckle at this scene. Adrien Brody, Tom Hiddleston, Corey Stoll and Kathy Bates make their cameos as Salvador Dali, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein respectively. And the actor who plays Bunuel, Adrien de Van, has such an uncanny resemblance to him that it is, err, surreal.
Midnight in Paris is a return-to-form for Allen since his 1994 film Bullets Over Broadway. He hasn’t made anything substantially noteworthy since Bullets. Midnight in Paris hits all the right notes. Everything from the characterization to the cinematography is splendid. It’s a funny, touching and mesmerizing film and sees Allen revisiting the themes that made some of his much older films successful. No other film made me fall in love with Paris as much as this one did. It is Allen’s love letter to Paris and it clearly comes through in his writing. In my opinion, this is the best film of 2011.