Midnight in Paris: Rom-Com as Travelogue

Sorry to upset the Owen Wilson fans out there, but his films are a complete no-no for me. Any cinema trailers that I have to endure leave me feeling that I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than pay money to watch his films.  His sole facial expression seems to be that of a permanently perplexed goldfish, with an acting style that’s quite possibly sponsored by Cuprinol.   However I’ve had to set aside such uncharitable judgements because his new film is set in my favourite city: Paris.

Woody Allen’s latest offering is a time travel rom-com but also an homage to those literary and artistic figures who called Paris home during the 1920s.  Beautifully shot, it’s the images of the cobbled back streets, Parisian flea markets, Shakespeare & Co’s bookshop and blue-enamelled street signs (as well as the instantly-recognisable icons) that had me yearning to dash to St Pancras and leap onboard the next train bound for the City of Light.

Wilson plays Gil, a highly successful Hollywood screenwriter with a yearning to write a great American novel.  Falling in love with the city, he harbours regret that he didn’t move to Paris, imbibe the artistic influences and achieve his literary ambition.

Accompanied by his self-centred fiancée and her brash, arrogant parents, Gil’s disaffection with their singular perspective of Paris viewed through the prism of shopping mecca quickly becomes apparent.  One night, tired and a little drunk he opts to walk back their hotel alone in the rain, quickly becoming lost.

As the church bells strike twelve a chauffeur-driven vintage car pulls up and its noisy American occupants persuade him to join them at the party they’re on their way to attend.

Gil gradually realises that he’s stepped back to the 1920s and is in the company of Gertrude Stein and the writers she called the Lost Generation: Hemingway,  (who would use the term Lost Generation in The Sun Also Rises), Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, as well as Cole Porter and their friends from Europe, Picasso and Dali.

Every night at midnight he’s drawn back to this milieu of literary and artistic talent, becoming Hemingway’s confidant, saving Zelda Fitzgerald
from a suicidal plunge into the Seine and awed to discover that Gertrude Stein
is reviewing his novel.

Littered with cultural references, the film also portrays others of the era:  Man Ray, Modigliani and Braque, but to reveal any more would be a plot-spoiler for those who have yet to see it.

I’m still no fan of Owen Wilson, but the film explores a number of Woody Allen’s themes and makes intriguing comparisons between past and present.  As a confirmed Parisophile I was so immersed in the location that when I left the cinema I almost said ‘merci’ to the person who let me out of my seat and into the aisle.   It takes a lot to distract me from Paris and even Owen Wilson couldn’t manage it.

This article was published in The Sussex Newspaper on November 4th





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