I prefer Luke Wilson to Owen Wilson…and I prefer older Woody Allen films like Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Hannah and Her Sisters to Allen’s more recent films.
But, as Owen Wilson films go, this is one of his better efforts, and as recent Woody Allen films go, this one is…pleasant.
If that sounds like faint praise, sometimes pleasant is good enough.
Midnight in Paris is the story of a screenwriter named Gil, played by Wilson, who has written a novel and longs to be part of the colony of artists that inhabited Paris in the 20s. He would like to move to Paris, but his fiancée (played by Rachel McAdams) likes the Southern California lifestyle and all that it implies for Allen (think back to Annie Hall if you need a refresher on this).
One night while rambling, Gil meets up with Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and later with Ernest Hemingway and other nights he encounters Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein – who encourages his work! – Luis Bunuel and others.
Don’t let the time travel aspect of the film throw you off. Woody Allen takes a metaphysical tack in some of his films – I don’t especially like many of those except Zelig – but Midnight in Paris is better than some of Allen’s films in this category so long as you get the references.
The basic idea is that no one sees the artistry of the age he or she inhabits. I won’t spoil the plot twists that bring Gil to this realization, but he comes to understand that everything seems rather mundane as it is happening because only with time comes context.
If you know something about the writers and artists and musicians and something about their lives, then you get the jokes and Midnight in Paris is moderately entertaining, but it is a modest film.
In this regard, it reminds me of the 2008 movie Me and Orson Welles. If you know about Welles’ work in radio with the Mercury Theater and his stage work and the films that are coming soon after the period covered in this movie, then it’s a lot of fun to watch.
If a viewer lacks that context, however, the film doesn’t stand on its own very well.