Sorry to break it to you, New York, but 32 years after he declared you the only city for him in Manhattan, Woody Allen is cheating on you. He’s had trysts in the past, but in Midnight in Paris his flirtation with the City of Light blossoms into a full-blown affair. His infatuation is obvious in every lovingly filmed frame. He even pulls one of his old seduction techniques, opening with a montage of sumptuous location photography. At least he doesn’t set it to “Rhapsody in Blue.” That would just be cruel.
If it’s any consolation, Paris isn’t about Paris in the way Allen’s classic New York films were about the experience of actually being in New York. It’s more about the idea of Paris, and really the idea of any time and place that isn’t our own. Owen Wilson, convincingly stepping into the “Woody Allen role,” stars as Gil Pender, a screenwriter and self-described “Hollywood hack” who thinks of himself as a novelist born in the wrong era. On vacation in Paris with his unsupportive fiancée (Rachel McAdams), her parents, and her pretentious fuckwad of a friend (Michael Sheen, oozing with great pseudo-intellectual smarm), Pender wanders into the streets one night and tipsily stumbles upon a rip in the space-time continuum. At the stroke of midnight, an old-timey car pulls up and whisks him off to the 1920s to party with his literary idols—F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and Ernest Hemingway, portrayed with hilarious hyper-masculinity by Corey Stoll—and Picasso’s beguiling mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard). It’s basically a fairy tale for English lit majors.
It’s also Allen’s best work in years, and his most fun. He has a ball “Woody-izing” time-travel comedy—his version of Back to the Future’s “Marvin Berry” joke involves Luis Buñuel and the plot for The Exterminating Angel. That said, calling Paris a true return to form for him after the past decade’s mixed bag is an exaggeration. It’s more of a charming trifle, à la his 1996 foray into musicals, Everyone Says I Love You. Allen knows this, too. “I’m having an insight,” Wilson proclaims in the midst of literally spelling out the theme of the movie. “It’s a minor one, but still.” So don’t fret, New York: He still saves his big ideas for the Big Apple. He just hasn’t had one in a while.
77 SEE IT: Midnight in Paris is rated PG-13. It opens Friday at Fox Tower.