When good Americans die they go to Paris

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast
— Ernest Hemingway

I have been lucky enough to have visited Paris twice in my life (so far) — once on a back-backing trip and once on my honeymoon. It is an easy city to be romantic in, but it’s even easier to be romantic about, and Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, is an hour-and-a-half love letter to the city, art, literature and creativity itself.

There is always a “Woody Allen character” in Woody Allen films, and this go-round his name is Gil and he’s played by Owen Wilson, displaying a kind of youthful exuberance I haven’t seen from Wilson since Bottle Rocket (1996). He’s travelled to Paris with his wife-to-be (Rachel McAdams) and future in-laws on a business trip, and this is not his first visit. No matter how hard he tries, he simply cannot get anyone to comprehend the beauty and amazement he sees all around him in the city of lights. They are more interested in stuffy dinners and shopping. His wife seems to be more interested in spending time with the laughably pretentious Paul (Michael Sheen), a family “friend.”

Gil often finds himself wandering the streets alone, which I’m sure he prefers. One night, unable to find his way back to his hotel, Gil is picked up by a mysterious cab full of revelers on their way to a party. Two of the revelers turn out to be F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. It isn’t long before Gil, an aspiring novelist, is hanging with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso. Allen makes little effort to explain this flight of fancy, and the film is better for it. One evening, while chilling at Gertrude Stein’s home, Gil meets Adriana, a mistress of Pablo Picasso’s. They immediately hit it off and, in finding real romance, Gil begins to question himself and his life choices.

But enough about that.

This movie is really about Paris and the romance it inspires, and in that regard it is hugely successful. If this film doesn’t make you want to pack your bags then I’ve got nothing for you. Its literary and film references are clever (the gag where Gil suggests that Luis Bunuel make a film about a bunch of bourgeoisie people having dinner together and then finding that they can’t leave the room is a personal fav), but not so esoteric as to lose everybody, and the jazz soundtrack really seals the deal. A beautiful film set in a beautiful city. Will that be enough?

Midnight in Paris is nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best original Screenplay & Best Art Direction

Kevin Mattison is co-editor of The Idler, and a filmmaker and videographer. You can follow him on Twitter at @kmmattison.

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