Midnight in Paris is one of the gimmicky Woody Allen movies, as opposed to the straight relationship/one-liner movies or the occasional serious ones. I like those, like Annie Hall, Purple Rose of Cairo and Mighty Aphrodite that shatter the fourth wall. The only problem with Midnight is it’s not funny like the previous examples.
Gil (Owen Wilson) is a frustrated writer, successful in Hollywood but he really wants to be a novelist. Yes, another whiny, self-loathing writer character. He’s in Paris with his wife Inez (Rachel McAdams) planning their wedding. When the clock strikes twelve, Gil is able to visit the past and meet famous literary and artistic figures.
It’s a good idea, modern day Woody Allen surrogate hanging out with highbrow pop culture figures. They just don’t make any jokes. Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) has tough love wisdom but it’s not funny. Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill) is an oversensitive lush and F. Scott (Tom Hiddleston) is so modest it’s hard to get much out of his appearance. Maybe if I paid more attention in high school English I’d get it.
The real story is that Gil falls for Adriana (Marion Cotillard) in the past. She’s one of Pablo Picasso’s lovers, but of course the temperamental artist doesn’t appreciate her like modern day romanticist Gil. It’s not quite as typical as the usual older man/younger muse relationship Allen loves to write about, and there’s also nothing moving about it.
Don’t cry for Inez though. She’s pretty awful in the typical “why are they together in the first place” way of romantic comedies. She only does what she wants and even complains if gifts aren’t to her liking. Gil just babbles to try to keep her satisfied, and there’s no wi buried in those frantic rants.
The only payoff for Gil’s trips to the past are when he’s able to tell off a know-it-all snob who keeps lecturing the group about art. Otherwise, Gil just makes excuses to explain why he’s out all night. He gives artists their own ideas, since he’s from the future and knows the great works they haven’t written yet. You know, like Marvin Berry in Back to the Future.
The ultimate point about our obsession with so-called Golden Ages is obvious, and Gil still babbles his way to that conclusion. Midnight in Paris may be a love letter to Woody Allen’s favorite era and its greatest artists, but it’s superficial and dull.