Midnight in Paris: Sunset for Allen?

Art & Lit Screen

Midnight in Paris, visually pleasing and composed of shot after shot of beautiful Parisian streets, luxurious markets and restaurants, and attractive men and women, tells a fanciful fairytale about the possibilities of time travel, nostalgia, and romance. However, while the film was visually dazzling, the script lacked luster.  Midnight in Paris has many nice moments, but it is a shallow representation of an American abroad, reveling in all the lovely stereotypes of the legendary city of romance.

Midnight in Paris is a fantasy about Gil Bender, sweetly played by Owen Wilson, an American and an aspiring novelist who looks to the greats of Lost Generation such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald for direction. He travels to Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), an over-privileged, shrewish young American, and her right-wing parents. While Gil’s travel companions are content to shuttle from museum to Michelin-starred restaurant to five-star hotel by taxi, ignoring the splendors of hidden Paris, Gil wants to see more, and so he ventures out on his own, stumbling upon the vibrant cultural life of Paris in the roaring twenties. The story is charming, and it is fun to watch Allen’s fairytale unfold on screen.

The movie begins with a montage of images taken at various tourist attractions and along less well-known boulevards, and we are presented with postcard views of Paris. This establishes the atmosphere for the rest of the film: the audience will experience Paris as a tourist, superficially scratching the surface of the oftentimes hidden city. By making the decision to admire Paris for its beauty and history as a traveler does, rather than to dive deep into the intricacies of the city as a native does, Allen turns his film into an American in Paris stereotype.

The frustrating part of the film was the script: it is as shallow as Allen’s depiction of Paris. But while the clichéd perspective of Paris suits the film as a whole, the banality of the script makes the movie harder to watch. The dialogue is unnatural and conversations seem artificial, not because of the element of time travel but because of the dialogue. It sounds manufactured; characters talk to each other but they don’t really say anything. There are a few moments of insight, but the revelations are unsatisfying and superficial.

Midnight in Paris was not meant to be profound.  Charming and idyllic, it’s a dream come to life. The portrayals of cultural icons were fun and light-hearted; it became a game, guessing which legend Gil would meet next. Despite an unremarkable and passionless script, Midnight in Paris is a sweet, albeit forgettable, look at Paris from the eyes of a tourist.

– Emily Searles