Midnight in Paris, sometime around 8pm in New York

Anyone who has ever fallen in love with a place, a person, a time period – or just fallen in love (if you can say falling in love is just something) – will fall deeply and inconveniently for this astonishingly sexy, funny film. Midnight in Paris is the stuff literary dreams are made of or, rather, it’s made of literary dream-stuff. Woody Allen’s latest film dares to give the sucker romantic a dose of real romance, enabling Gil Pender – a writer who has settled for penning Hollywood scripts but really yearns for novels – to retrieve the irretrievable as he travels back at the stroke of midnight, and with a touch of Cinderella magic, to what he calls his “golden age”: 1920s Paris.

We meet Gil holidaying in Paris with his whiney fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams) and his future in-laws, a pair of snotty Republicans who deem him cheap and unworthy of their precious daughter. The arrival of Inez’s old high school flame, Paul (Michael Sheen), who Gil mockingly calls a “pseudo-intellectual”, causes a stir, testing the couple’s relationship. With Inez out dancing with Paul one night, Gil uses the opportunity to walk the cobblestone streets of Paris, looking for “inspiration”. At exactly midnight, as it always happens in fairytales, what Gil must presume is a vintage car veers around the corner and its Franglais-speaking passengers usher him in. They’re in a hurry, it seems, and have some fabulous party to go to. At this fabulous party – and it really is fabulous – a dumbfounded Gil befriends the Fitzgeralds (an austere Scott portrayed by Tom Hiddleston and Zelda, the funny girl, played by Alison Pill) and literary heavyweight hero, Ernest Hemingway (played by a charismatic Corey Stroll). Oh, and there’s Cole Porter over on the piano. If that isn’t overwhelming enough, on learning that Gil is working on his own novel, Hemingway offers up to his protégée the proof reading services of BFF Gertrude Stein (played to pithy perfection by wisecracker Kathy Bates). All that’s just at the first of many in an inebriated frenzy of parties as Gil returns each midnight for “inspiration”, rubbing shoulders with a cocktail of artists and writers; meeting Picasso and his alluring mistress, Adriana (played by a smouldering Marion Cotillard), and a flamboyant Dali (Adrien Brody) among countless others. Plunged into the dizzy 1920s and with an all-star cast taking on the roles of such literary greats, the magic is all a bit overwhelming.

Even watching the movie was magical. Though this magic wasn’t wholly invoked by the film’s deft comic charm, the flâneur-pleasing shots of Paris and that infamous Champs- Élysées stretch, or even its loved-up soundtrack (“Let’s do it, let’s fall in love” is virtually the film’s motto). Actually, it was magic because I was watching it in New York City: my very own Paris at midnight. Nestled in my seat at the Angelika on West Houston Street off Broadway, I found myself in an American movie theater watching an American movie and, better yet, in New York watching the latest Woody Allen. Awesome. Earlier that day, I had wandered Fifth Avenue thinking ­­– like a cliché, like Gil Pender – how it would have been back then… What was it like in Edith Wharton and Henry James’ time? How about 1920s New York? All I needed was “Rhapsody in Blue” to play in the back and I was in my “golden age”. Just how did we become so in love with the past? If you’re in 2000s Paris, you want it to be 1920s Paris. If you’re in 1920s Paris, you want it to be 1890s Paris. Midnight in Paris offers an answer for what we might see as the present’s irrational love with the past: The past has never been our own and nor can it be. It will always remain an abstract part of our reality, though a crucial one nonetheless and one we can only retrieve through the romance of literature and art; a reality we simply cannot align with our own, though it was lived by people just like you and me, Woody Allen and Gil Pender. Maybe it’s for that reason that Allen keeps it real in the move from contemporary Paris to the 1920s. With the exception of costume and technology (no iPads, iPods or i-anything are to be seen) which change with the times, Paris stays quite the same and there are no tacky lighting cues or even a whiff of fairy dust. Admittedly, there are a couple of hitches in the time-change. The idea of Gertrude Stein scouring a novel by a future writer without pulling him up on any mention of the modern is a tad inconceivable. No one 1920s is remotely curious about Gil’s attire (probably purchased from Gap), either. Despite these mini fallbacks, you just go with it and become a little taken aback by romance yourself, happily suspending any disbelief. In this psychological experiment of the present’s problematic love for the past, the effect really is a kind of cinema magic.

What with all the magic tricks, it’s no surprise that Midnight in Paris has been box-officed as a romantic comedy. And, of course, it is. Though it is only really romantic in the true sense of the word; it’s born of the kind of romance cultivated by Keats and Byron, later added to by Fitzgerald and Hemingway, and is thankfully not the type of romance swooning teenage girls would flock to the cinema for. It’s for romantics and dreamers; the Gil Penders of the world who have ever strolled a city and wondered ­– like a cliché, like me – how it was back then. Allen’s latest is a phantasmagoria of America’s longstanding love affair with Paris; a love that can only be renewed by the gorgeous lamp lit backdrops of Paris the screen captures, a city whose streets are for walking, talking, thinking and dreaming. Though the concept at the heart of Midnight in Paris is a simple one, from that Cinderella starting point ­­– your carriage awaits, Gil – emerges an enchanting narrative that breaks open the curiosity cabinet of the past, unpacking its hazy romances and raucous realities, exhibiting Gil’s refusal (and our own) to accept reality whilst gesturing toward the romantic possibilities of our present. In an era that questions the existence of romance altogether, this film is cinematic proof that it’s out there. Somewhere. In New York, at the Angelika. In Paris, at midnight.

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