Midnight In Paris
by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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Midnight in Paris, from celebrated director Woody Allen, was a delightful movie. I enjoyed it, because it used a time portal to transport Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson, to another era in Paris. Gil and his fiancée, Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, were in Paris, along with Inez’ parents, while her dad finalized a business deal. Gil and Inez were due to be married, sometime after they returned to the states.
One night, Gil, who is an idealist screenwriter at heart, finds himself in a part of Paris that he had never visited, after he became lost, walking back to his hotel. But as he set on the steps, and modern cars passed him by, an old Rolls Royce pulled up, and the occupants beckoned him inside. It just happened to be right past midnight, and it just so happens that this is when the world turned differently for Gil. He was suddenly in 1920’s Paris with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda, Gertrude Stein, played by Kathy Bates, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Josephine Baker, T. S. Eliot and other literary, jazz and art figures.
Gil doesn’t get along well with his future in-laws, and he really doesn’t have much in common with Inez’s friends who they accidentally bump into while on vacation. In one scene at an art gallery, after Gil has met Picasso and Adriana, one of Picasso’s secret lovers, he critiques one of Picasso’s portraits with such fervor, because he has just met the great painter and the woman who influenced that particular piece of art.
After a while, Gil falls in love with Adriana and says that his wedding was still a ways in the future. That line was so profound, since at the time he was living in the early 20th Century. Afterward he finds a vintage diary of Adriana’s that was written in the past but mentioned her receiving earrings from Gil as a gift. He is so wrapped up in this “midnight” world that he takes a pair of his fiancée’s earrings and wraps them to give to Adriana. But his plan is thwarted when Inez and her parents decide not to go to the countryside, and she busts him with the gift box in his hand. Inez’s dad has long been suspicious, because Gil can’t ever be found at night, and he sends a private investigator to figure out where he goes. Consequently, the private investigator gets lost in the dream, also.
Finally, the relationship between Inez and Gil is just too weird and as equally strained, and the couple finally calls off their engagement. Frankly, Gil is so immersed in this other life with past greats that consumes him every night at midnight. He even has Stein and Hemingway reviewing a book he is writing. When Gil spends time with Adriana, the both of them are transported to yet another time that she considers her “Golden Age,” a time that is situated in the 1890’s. It seems that both Gil and Adriana were thrilled to be lost in the past, while not having to deal with the problems right at hand.
Bates, Adrien Brody, Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston and others playing the cultural greats seemed to have such fun doing this movie. One of the clubs that Gil and the gang visit to dance and drink the night away is Bricktop’s, owned by the African-American dancer and singer from West Virginia, who owned this popular nightclub in Paris from 1924 until 1961. At Bricktop’s, Cole Porter was playing piano and singing his heart out. All of these events just drew Gil to love Paris more and more, and question whether he was born in the right era. Bricktop has been called “….one of the most legendary and enduring figures of twentieth-century American cultural history.” I remember reading about Bricktop and was thrilled to see that Allen used her club as one of the venues at which everyone hung out and had fun.
I enjoyed this movie and do know that Woody Allen can be tough to swallow at times. However, I understand that this film was such a hit at the recent Cannes film fest, with it being described as “a wonderful love letter to Paris.”
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.
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