Woody Allen, the non-stop filmmaker who has unleashed more turkeys than the late Bernard Matthews has actually made an entertaining movie after a spate of flops including the BBC-financed Scoop whose only British release was by Kurdish pirates in North London.
And, presumably to the delight and relief of Warner Bros. who released the truly terrible Whatever Works (the film didn’t), Midnight in Paris has actually scored at the box-office.
Like Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo, fantasy is the inciting incident. Here the fantastic element is time travel. American screenwriter and aspirant novelist Owen Wilson is in Paris with his nagging fiancee Rachel McAdams and her parents and having a bad time.
Fortunately, Wilson takes midnight a ride in a vintage car and ends up in 1920s Paris at a Left Bank party in the company of contemporary celebrities like Cole Porter, F Scott Fitzgerald and Salvador Dali.
Wilson returns to his Golden Age night after night, finding love with Marion Cotillard, getting advice about his book from Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates, perfectly cast) and even paying a flying visit to 1800s Paris to meet Toulouse Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge as his relationship with McAdams crumbles.
Allen may be a more avid name-dropper than even Michael Parkinson but here he makes good and amusing use of the ‘names’ – Picasso, for instance, is credited with saying he only thinks that, “women are to sleep with or paint”.
And if Woody runs out of inspiration again (Poop, a sequel to Scoop?) then his beautifully photographed opening montage of Paris in the sunshine and rain could well serve as a visiting card for him to switch to becoming a documentary filmmaker. Midnight in Paris might better have been called I Love Paris since Cole Porter’s classic perfectly sums up the film – it’s Allen’s unabashed valentine to the city. And to prove it, he gives President Sarkozy’s spouse, the former model Carla Bruni, a speaking role as a museum guide.
Wilson, given the now traditional role of Allen’s younger alter ego is actually not irritating for once, Michael Sheen enjoys himself as a pompous know-all, Law and Order Los Angeles star Corey Stoll replaces his killer police .38 with killer put-downs as Hemingway and there are no obvious acting duds. That said, as far as Allen is concerned, the real star is Paris.