Let me begin by saying I hit “stop” on my DVD player midway through and never returned to the confusing and unrealistic movie “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” I did not read the book by the same name, so I don’t want to judge it too harshly, but if the film is anything like it, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the book. It was way too far-fetched and contrived for my taste, and as those who know me can attest, I am not fearful of a film full of whimsy and fantasy, so I was disappointed.
Imagine, then, my surprise when I walked out of The Charles Theatre in Baltimore last Tuesday and was pleased to have seen Woody Allen’s latest film, “Midnight in Paris,” a delightful romp set in modern day Paris with Allen’s main character, Gil, dabbling in some midnight time travelling. The plot itself showcased Allen’s ability to stir his creativity and take us, as the audience, with Gil on his late-night excursions through the City of Light. It was marvelous, and I enjoyed the journey.
Owen Wilson plays Gil, a screenwriter from Los Angeles, who has a burning desire to break free from his everyday job and complete the novel he’s working on about a man who “owns a nostalgia shop.” Gil is also engaged to marry Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, a materialistic, condescending, spoiled woman, who is vacationing with Gil and her parents in Paris. Along the way, the foursome meets up with one of Inez’s former professors, Paul, and his girlfriend. Inez quickly gets caught up in the professor’s pseudo-intelligence, as he often mixes up his facts and statistics and likes to toot his own horn. One night, after a dinner, Inez wants to go dancing with Paul and his girlfriend and Gil wants to walk the streets of Paris—the story takes off from here as Gil goes it alone, taking in the sights, sounds, and illumination of the Parisian streets.
When an old-fashioned car pulls up as Gil is sitting on one of the steps of a Paris brownstone, Gil is told to come inside and is transported to the Parisian golden age, filled with characters from The Lost Generation such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, and more. While this may seem to be a stretch, the concept works because Gil’s ability to go back in time enables him to see and understand his present-day life and relationship with Inez clearly. In a Disney movie, we would call Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald Gil’s “fairy godmothers.”
The beauty of this film is Allen’s ability to blend humor and self-introspection combined with a need to break free of things that bring us down with the sweetness of the fantasy of time travelling. As a viewer, it was a pleasure to be swept into an era gone by, yet watch a modern character play out what his future may hold for him.
As the story comes to a close, we cheer for Allen’s neurotic but likable and passionate Gil for following his own educational caprice and we hiss at Inez for her lack of creativity and kindness. And in the end, after only 1 hour and 30 minutes, we have been to Paris and back, savoring its lights, and relishing its present-day characters, as well as those colorful personalities from the past.