Midnight in Paris is pretty standard Woody Allen fare. If you’re a fan of his work (as I am), you’ll find it a charming, beautifully shot celebration of the artist’s imagination. If you’re not, you’ll find it an obvious, pedantic fairytale populated by “thinly drawn,” as a companion called them, stereotyped characters. You might even object to his extended opening montage, thinking it little more than a parade of Paris’s greatest hits: the Seine, the Champs Elysees, and even a certain tower. I loved that part, though: It was as though Woody Allen were trying to get his bearings in a city that’s not New York, one in which you can see the sky without craning your neck, one whose beige and grey buildings almost melt into the clouds. Through Allen’s expert eye, the almost trite images become beautiful anew, almost fresh and glowing, even as he acknowledges how clichéd they are. The montage, then, aptly introduces the film’s main theme: the pleasures and pitfalls of nostalgia (an idea easily found in much of Allen’s work, though—thankfully—less explicitly).
The film only treads new ground—aside from, you know, Paris—in that Owen Wilson plays the character that, in a different decade, Allen himself would have played. As far as I know, Owen creates Allen’s first protagonist who credibly does not perceive his own arrogance and self-absorption. For me, he and his fiancé (played with unsinkable irascibility by Rachel McAdams) were thus among the most real of Allen’s long line of woefully mismatched couples. This was the first time, in seeing one of Allen’s films, I thought not only, “of course they’re not right for each other,” but also, “of course they can’t see it themselves.”