You don't need to be a Francophile to appreciate all that Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris has to offer. The film is immersed in gorgeous French scenery, bathed in the kind of soft lighting that just makes you sigh with a sense of satisfaction. It's easy to see why Gil (Owen Wilson) wants to hunker down in Paris's quaint coffee shops to focus on his novel, an idea that his shallow wife Inez (Rachel McAdams) scoffs at. During a trip to France, the couple embodies the two stereotypical sides of spending time abroad: he's filled with appreciation and seeking inspiration while she's seeing the sights but not really experiencing them.
It's obvious from the start that Gil and Inez are incredibly wrong for each other, but it takes a few separate adventures in Paris to illustrate their fundamental differences. Inez is unabashedly attracted to her former professor, Paul (Michael Sheen), whom she and Gil bump into at a restaurant. When she splits off to go dancing, Gil gets the chance to wander the streets alone — and he gets a lot more than he bargained for when a car comes by to pick him up at midnight.
To see why Midnight in Paris is another hit from Allen (warning: some spoilers ahead), just read more.
Midnight in Paris is an exposition in nostalgia and self-acceptance. Gil's convinced he was born in the wrong time, and when the buggy that picks him up transports him to the Bohemian '20s, he turns into a kid in a candy shop. Rubbing elbows with the likes of Hemingway and Picasso, Gil is in his own personal heaven of artist worship — but he's blind to how unhappy his new BFFs are (and the fact that they don't share Gil's fascination with their time).
I wasn't exactly expecting the film to take a turn into time-traveling, but Allen makes it work. Inez wonders where Gil is disappearing off to at night, but it really requires no realistic explanation; the movie is more of a fairy tale than a romantic comedy. The '20s setting provides plenty of opportunities for more beautiful scenery (and amazing costumes), and an array of historical figures paves the way for an endless amount of dramatic irony.
The juxtaposition of Gil's two worlds keeps the story afloat; when Allen veers too far into the '20s, he snaps us back to a reality that's even more interesting now that Gil has a huge secret to keep. Gil's a fish out of water in both of his lives, and Wilson carries his conundrum to naive perfection.
The beauty of Midnight in Paris (aside from its obvious aesthetics) is that it's enticing to both dreamers and cynics. It's packed with literary references and art-world jokes that intellectuals will snicker at, but is wrapped in a fantasy that's easy to get swept up in. Like many works of art, sometimes it's best to just enjoy it and not overthink it.