Woody Allen Guides Us to the City of Light

It’s the middle of July, and plenty of movies have already satisfied my summer cravings for that big-budget blockbuster. X-Men: First Class gave us a better (and darker) post-Dark Knight reboot of a tired franchise. Super 8 was a film reminiscent of Spielberg’s glory days of the 1970s and 80s. This weekend, the first true sold-out summer movie event will take place with the final Harry Potter installment, and my hopes are high for Captain America. But none of these qualify as my favorite summer 2011 film: that award goes to Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Many college-aged guys and gals are barely familiar with Allen’s work. Maybe you've seen Vicky Christina Barcelona, his last major critical success, or watched Annie Hall in an intro film class. This is a shame because, with over 40 movies under his belt, Allen is one of the most prolific filmmakers of our time.  I'm not saying all 40 flicks are must-sees... there's a definite downside to pumping out three, sometimes four, movies in a year.

Luckily for Woody Allen fans, Midnight in Paris contains all of the admirable qualities of his more enjoyable films. The film is original, quirky, and cleverly muses on romance and life through the eyes of an underdog-type protagonist involved with a pretty woman. Allen, who in his younger years often played the male lead in his movies, cedes central role to Owen Wilson.  Wilson does a fine job of blending his own off-beat traits with Allen’s distinct mannerism-- actually, he nails the role. Marion Cotillard elegantly plays the 1920s “It-girl.”  Rachel McAdams is another story: I found her to be the weak link in an otherwise stellar cast.  As in Sherlock Holmes, McAdams really got on my nerves.  But in her defense, Allen intends for the audience to hate her “bitchy girlfriend” character.

The film succeeds in being nostalgic, while simultaneously convincing us that nostalgia is all about perspective, and is usually a waste of energy. The film's surrealist vibe plays homage to the Modernist Paris it celebrates. The cinematography includes iconic shots of every Parisian scenes: this is Allen's love letter, of sorts, to the City of Light. For literary zealots, the film's reimagining of the ex-patriate artists and writers of the twenties is particularly fun.  A disheveled Ernest Hemingway inquires, “Have you ever shot a charging lion?” and Adrian Brody makes an incredibly convincing Salvador Dali. Other cameos include Kathy Bates, Tom Hiddleston (Loki in Thor), and Carla Bruni.

Midnight in Paris also lives up to Woody Allen's record of making ideal flicks for date-nights: guys and girls will both find this film entertaining. To get in the Modernist Paris mindset, read some Gertrude Stein or check out a modern art history book before you head to the theater. If the film piques your interest, read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

Whether you're a lover of literature and art, or just need an fun summer film, Midnight in Paris is an excellent pick.  The main theme focuses on a universal search for happiness and love in this crazy, chaotic world.


 Watch the trailer for Midnight in Paris here.

Check out my reviews of True Grit and Wolfman, and be on the look-out for more summer movie reviews.