As far as old-school movie geeks are concerned, it is those who love Woody Allen the most who hold him to the highest standard. So when I offer the opinion that the outrageously prolific filmmaker has been a little "off his game" over the past few ... decades, it's a criticism that's laced with admiration, affection, and the certainty that Woody Allen is one of America's greatest filmmakers. Even when he's working overseas. Sure, Match Point was quite intriguing, and there were the low-key charms of Melinda and Melinda, Cassandra's Dream, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona ... but it will take a pretty long time to wash away the stench of the run that included Anything Else, Hollywood Ending, and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.
It's because I truly respect Woody Allen that I can call those three films junk, but in the same breath I'll admit my undying affection for Annie Hall, Sleeper, Love and Death, Broadway Danny Rose, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Zelig, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, and (of course) The Purple Rose of Cairo. And like most Woody Allen fans, I have a few off-kilter mini-favorites like Radio Days, Shadows and Fog, and Bullets Over Broadway. I'm elated to announce that Mr. Allen's 2011 feature, Midnight in Paris, is destined to join one of these lists very soon, because it's the best movie he's made in a very long time -- and it may even be remembered as the best of his "later stage" career. This is a wonderful little comedic fable about dreams and reality, romance and love, nostalgia and reality, and all sorts of little things in between.
And it's an appreciably simple tale, too: Owen Wilson plays a successful screenwriter who is engaged to a gorgeous blonde, and the couple is spending some time in Paris with her overbearing parents. While out by himself one night, Gil (Wilson) takes a rest on a quiet street corner as a nearby clock strikes twelve -- and then up pulls an old-fashioned car. Inside are F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and they promptly invite the nostalgic Gil to accompany them back to France in the 1920s. Oh, and the people Gil meets: Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso; Josephine Baker and ... well, he meets a lot of wonderfully iconic celebrities, and half the fun of Midnight in Paris is in watching Gil's frequent discoveries.
On the surface a simple fantasy story full of wit and warmth, and beneath that an affectionate but honest statement on the potential "dangers" of obsessive nostalgia, Midnight in Paris chugs forward on all cylinders, offering an eclectic buffet of characters, clever ideas, excellent performances, and simply beautiful touches in cinematography and music. Owen Wilson is fantastic (yes, really), the supporting players are flawless throughout, and there's a breezy sense of confidence, like Woody Allen has been making this particular movie (in his head) for the past ten years.
Were it not for a few missteps involving the broadly, perhaps stupidly, "ugly Americanism" of Gil's future in-laws -- their scenes are slightly annoying -- I'd be hard-pressed to find anything to dislike about Midnight in Paris. It's a beautiful little jewel of a movie, and I'm thrilled to realize that Woody Allen still has films this good inside of him.
Midnight in Paris finally expanded wide in the U.S. this weekend. Check local listings for theaters and showtimes.