Midnight in Paris

One of the best Woody Allen films in years. Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a lovable doofus like the ones Allen himself used to play in his movies (but without the neuroses) is in Paris with his irritating fiance, her awful parents, and her insufferable former boyfriend, having a lousy time. He walks the streets by himself, searching for echoes of the 1920’s era he loves. One night, sitting on a lonely staircase, he gets offered a ride by a fashionable couple in a vintage auto, and taken to what he assumes is a 1920’s costume party. But it’s not — he has traveled through time, and that guy playing the piano really is Cole Porter.  Gil’s life will never the be the same.

The movie is like a collection of bonbons — actors having a ball doing sendups of famous artists of the last century. Kathy Bates is particularly good as Gertrude Stein, Corey Stoll talks like Hemingway wrote, and Adrian Brody is a demented Salvador Dali.  But the emotional heart of the movie is Marion Cotillard, who seems to be everyone’s favorite Frenchwoman these days.

There’s not much plot here, and the movie’s “life lessons” are not particularly profound.  Allen plays with the cliches of time-travel movies as though he’d been making sci/fi films his whole life, as Gil makes “suggestions” to famous artists about ideas they haven’t had yet. But the movie has a good heart,  is blessedly free of the snark and meanness that has marred so much of Allen’s recent work, and says one or two true things.

Don’t be late though — you don’t want to miss the first three minutes, a montage of Parisian street scenes without words or actors, kind of a love letter to the entire city.

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