Ian’s 10 Best Movies No. 5 … “Midnight in Paris” is Magically Charming

By Ian Fyfield '14

“Midnight in Paris” is the kind of story an American literature nerd would daydream about. Woody Allen’s 2011 film features Gil (Owen Wilson), a hack screenwriter from Hollywood who dreams of writing a classic American novel. Just a warning, there will be spoilers in this review, as there is no easy way to talk about the delight and charm that comes out of this movie without revealing some details.

Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald (Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston), classic American authors brought to life. (Photo: New York Times)

Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald (Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston), classic American authors brought to life. (Photo: New York Times)

The film opens with Gil and Inez (Rachel McAdams) on a holiday in Paris. They are in love but Gil seems to harbor an even deeper love for the city in the spring. He would love to live in Paris, while Inez wants a comfortable life in the Los Angeles suburbs. When Gil stops at a café, he reminds himself that Ernest Hemingway may have sat in this very seat, drinking wine, while Inez expresses her desire to go shopping. When they visit Versailles, Gil wants to walk around, absorbing the air, while Inez wants to get taken on a tour by Paul (Michael Sheen), a pompous intellectual. The repeated juxtaposition of their differing moods highlights the rift between the couple.

Then, magic happens. Gil wanders off one night, roaming the streets of Paris, looking for inspiration. Suddenly, a bell is heard as the clock strikes midnight. A car pulls up in the street and the occupants inside invite him to join a party. These members of the vehicle include F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill, respectively), and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll).

Is the car some kind of time machine? Is this all in Gil’s nostalgia-fueled head? Allen makes no attempt to explain this magic. There’s no real need to. Gil, and the audience, are swept up into the era of the classic American writers and the wonderful thing is, it doesn’t matter how it happened.

Gil (Owen Wilson) and Adriana (Marion Cotillard) reveling in the age of American Classics. (Photo: New York Times)

Gil (Owen Wilson) and Adriana (Marion Cotillard) reveling in the age of American Classics. (Photo: New York Times)

This movie is not for everyone. If you have some kind of previous experience with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Pablo Picasso, you might be charmed by this movie’s magic. Allen assumes the audience has some level of familiarity with the people and ideas he is referencing. If you don’t, you may not enjoy this movie as much as I did.

That doesn’t mean you have to be an English major to enjoy this movie. The real key is Owen Wilson. He makes Gil so sincere, so enthusiastic about how happy he is to meet these influential people, that you can’t help but like him. He’s the Woody Allen character here, the guy with a slight stutter who has big ideas about the world.

The 1920s is not just fun and games for Gil, however. He meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), Picasso’s lover, who falls in love with Gil. Unlike others, he embodies confident humility. Back in the present day, Inez is getting increasingly annoyed at Gil’s disappearances every night.

Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams), the soon-to-be-married couple in “Midnight in Paris." (Photo: New York Times)

Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams), the soon-to-be-married couple in “Midnight in Paris.” (Photo: New York Times)

“Midnight in Paris” has one of the more happy endings in Woody Allen’s career. I don’t want to spoil anything, but after watching movies like “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Annie Hall,” and “Blue Jasmine,” “Midnight in Paris” ends on a surprising high note, with almost everyone getting what they want. Those desires might not be the same as they were at the beginning of the movie, but the plot flows organically enough so as not to make the ending feel jarring and out of place, which can be a struggle for many filmmakers.

“Midnight in Paris” is such a whimsically charming movie, there’s not much to dislike about it. You either connect with it, or you don’t. It’s not a movie for everyone, but it’s a movie for me, and I’m okay with that.