I love two things: Paris, and Woody Allen movies.
It was clear from the open scenes in "Midnight in Paris" that this was a love letter to the City of Light in the same way his "Manhattan" was a love letter to that island. We see Paris the way those of us who love it remember it, the way Woody Allen pines for it, filled with romance and yes, rain.
Woody Allen in this movie is Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter from California who has made a good living in Hollywood churning out scripts, writes and rewrites, but longs to write a novel. He's in Paris with his fiancee Inez, tagging along with her parents on a business trip. More than anything, he wants to leave California behind and move to Paris to write that novel and walk in the rain.
Inez will have none of it.
This becomes apparent in the first few minutes of the film, when we meet them in Giverny strolling the gardens, tight in on a kiss overlooking the pond, and she reminds him they've got to run to meet her parents in the city for dinner. Gil wants to not only live in but savor every moment, sidewalk cafes and Pernod and curiosity shops; she wants to be dashing off somewhere else.
The lush landscape of Giverny provides the perfect setting for a kiss, even an aborted one.
Her parents embody everything that Woody Allen disdains, wrapped up in Tea Party conservatism and American Francophobia. Inez' father is there to seal a big corporate merger but doesn't like the French; her mother, a decorator, constantly reminds Inez that "you get what you pay for" and that some things are just "cheap cheap cheap." She's referring to Gil and not just furniture, it soon becomes clear, and although the parents know he makes a good living, they're not so sure he's steady enough for their daughter.
The insufferable prospective in-laws, who decide Gil needs to be followed by a private investigator after he starts disappearing on midnight strolls.
Gil sees Paris through the lens of the Jazz Age, 1920's in Paris, and wants to be a part of that Paris and walk in the rain. When he stumbles onto a way to do that on a midnight stroll, his world is forever changed.
We recognize familiar characters in the landscape of Woody Allen movies, including the pseudo-intellectual who wants to show them Versailles and pontificate over paintings, women who are soft, lovely, subtle, strong, overbearing and even disturbed.
The Eiffel Tower might be in the background and the sky ribboned in pink, but Inez and her friends are more interested in the oakiness of their wine.
Above all, this is a writer's movie inhabited by the writer's heroes, confronting the writer's greatest fantasies, to be edited by Gertrude Stein, break bread with Hemingway.
Rachel McAdams plays Inez, with fine performances by Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Adrian Brody, and a lovely cameo by Carla Bruni, the current first lady of France. There are many who think the casting of Owen Wilson was a dissonant choice for the Woody Allen stand-in; I thought it was inspired. "Midnight in Paris" opened Cannes this year and provided Sony's, and Woody Allen's, biggest opening ever.
Carla Bruni, as a Parisian tour guide, answers Gil's question about whether a man can love both a wife and a mistress.
Noteworthy in this film is that there seems not to be a cell phone or a computer anywhere, just a world of books and handwritten manuscripts, Cole Porter music and beautifully furnished rooms. I'm fairly certain there's not even a single instance of "La Vie en Rose" on accordion. We're reminded near the end that above the brooding and melancholy, Woody Allen is, above all, hilariously funny.
We know it's all fantasy, but damn, it's a good one. I'm with Gil.
Gil contemplates his fate from the luxury of a Paris hotel room.
Gil has dinner with his girlfriend and future in-laws in Paris, and tells it like it is.