Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Woody Allen’s latest comic confection follows Hollywood screenwriter turned would-be novelist Gil (an appealing Owen Wilson) as he and fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) soak up the Parisian atmosphere (as do we, thanks to gorgeous cinematography by Darius Khondji) during a pre-wedding trip.  Like the protagonist of his novel-in-progress, Gil romanticizes the past and waxes rhapsodic about the artistic community of 1920s Paris.  Inez, meanwhile, fixates on more pragmatic matters related to the impending marriage.  Late one night Gil becomes lost wandering the streets and, as the clock strikes midnight, obtains a ride from revelers in a vintage car.  They arrive at a party in full swing, and Gil discovers he has been whisked back in time by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife, Zelda (Alison Pill).  Soon he is hobnobbing with Ernest Hemingway (a very funny Corey Stoll), who expresses an interest in Gil’s novel.  But when he leaves the party to get the manuscript, Gil finds himself back in present day.  Each night Gil returns to the midnight spot, and each night the car returns him to his writer’s utopia.  There he meets illustrious figures from the day -- Salvador Dali (a manic Adrien Brody) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), among others – and falls for a costume designer and sometime model named Adriana (Marion Cotillard).  Meanwhile the distance between Gil and Inez grows.  In this film writer/director Allen whimsically exposes our need to idealize the past at the expense of enjoying the present (a variation of a theme he pursued in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO).  But Allen himself also indulges.  The scenes set in the past are so bursting with passion and the performances so joyous, like Gil we long to return to them.  And Allen stacks the deck against the present.  McAdams has rarely been this unlikeable as the self-absorbed Inez, Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy bristle as her shallow, suspicious parents, and Michael Sheen perfectly plays the boorish know-it-all Paul, who acts as Paris tour guide to the engaged couple.  And while the film never reaches the heights of an ANNIE HALL or MANHATTAN, I would be a hypocrite indeed if I failed to admit that I savored its many pleasures.

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