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Midnight In Paris

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Midnight in Paris

Directed by Woody Allen

Opens June 10

You want to hope Woody Allen is just no longer giving a damn with Midnight in Paris. In a way, it’s a pretty typical Allen foray into imaginative entertainment: Gil (Owen Wilson) is a successful Hollywood screenwriter who feels like he never gave himself a real chance to become a serious novelist by staying in Paris after college. These feelings are stirred up when he visits the city of lights with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy), a pair of stereotypically uptight American conservatives. Gil is feeling the city’s romantic undertow and is actually considering living there for a spell to finish the novel he can’t quite complete, about a man who works in a “nostalgia shop.” Inez just wants to find the prefect furnishings for their potential home in Malibu. Gil constantly feels like the fly in the vacation ointment until he wanders around Paris a bit tipsy one night, stumbles across an old-timey car when the clock strikes midnight, and gets whisked away back to the time he romanticizes the most: Paris in the 1920s, where he parties and chats with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Salvador Dalí (an inspired Adrien Brody), and a fetching young artists model/paramour, Adriana (Marion Cotillard).

So far, so Allen: It’s the sort of revisiting an idealized past that has permeated a great deal of his work over the years, from his penchant for New Orleans jazz to the idea of movies as wish fulfillment in The Purple Rose of Cairo. And as a traditional Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris is pretty low-hanging fruit.

It’s the casting of Wilson in the ubiquitous “Woody Allen role” that’s curious. He’s the most unlikely Allen romantic-comedy lead since Kenneth Branagh took a stab at the type in 1998’s Celebrity; where Branagh actually tried to do his best Allen, Wilson just sorta acts like he’s starring in something opposite Kate Hudson or Vince Vaughn. It’s a casting choice that gives Allen’s script—with Gil’s references to being a Hollywood hack and nostalgia for an age in which he never lived (such as wheneverthehell those Wes Anderson movies are supposed to take place)—a patina of potential bite. So, yeah, just another Woody Allen movie—but as a Woody Allen eyepoke to Wilson et. al’s derivative “serious” filmmaking, Midnight in Paris is damned near a hoot.

That reading is probably merely a hopeful stretch; what is crystal clear is that cinematographer Darius Khondji is the movie’s true star. The Iranian master who put an indelible stamp on everything from Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children to Se7en, In Dreams, and Panic Room; his rich gifts have been underused by Allen (Anything Else), Wong Kar-wai (My Blueberry Nights), and Sydney Pollack (The Interpreter). In Paris Khondji gets to treat the city in three different light temperatures for the present, the 1920s, and a Belle Epoque Paris that Gil and Adriana travel to at one point. If nothing else, Khondji’s work in Midnight in Paris reminds you that the French capital remains an intoxicatingly photogenic place—no matter how many times you’ve seen its landmarks.

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