Widely and inexplicably celebrated as one of Woody Allen’s best recent films, Midnight in Paris squanders what is admittedly one of his best recent premises. Visiting Paris with his ludicrously materialistic fiancée (Rachel McAdams, in a thankless role), Gil (Owen Wilson), a frustrated screenwriter and aspiring novelist, mysteriously finds himself transported every night to the 1920s, where he hobnobs with the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Dalí, etc. Gil also strikes up a tentative romance with a more like-minded soul (Marion Cotillard)—so like-minded, in fact, that she fails to recognize the golden age she inhabits, yearning herself for the glories of the Belle Epoque, several decades earlier. Nostalgia, Allen wants us to understand, doesn’t solve anything; it only alienates us from the present.
Unfortunately, you know that’s the intended theme because characters actually declaim it, in speeches that might as well be accompanied by a flashing “author’s message” sign. That wouldn’t be a big problem if the rest of the movie were a laugh riot, of course, but Midnight in Paris does little more than congratulate viewers who recognize the name Man Ray or know the basic plot of Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel. Allen has cast remarkable look-alikes as many of the ’20s icons (along with Adrien Brody as Dalí and Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein), but he hasn’t thought up anything for them to do—their mere appearance, along with Gil’s astonishment at meeting them (“Wait, Tom Eliot? Thomas Stearns Eliot? You’re T.S. Eliot?”) is meant to suffice. Like too much of late Allen, it’s a lazy, slapdash effort that plays like a first draft.