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Sony Pictures Classics

Midnight in Paris

Movies

Issue: "Tour d'America," June 18, 2011

Gil Pender's fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) wants to spend her time in Paris shopping for $18,000 chairs. Gil would rather walk through Paris in the rain, dreaming of the city back when Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald oozed genius over bottles of Bordeaux at corner cafés. If Gil could just live in Paris, he could imbibe their manly spirit and zest for living and finally finish the novel that will redeem his career as a Hollywood hack.

Woody Allen's charming film, Midnight in Paris, is an urbane alternative to this summer's raunchy romantic comedy, Bridesmaids. At the stroke of midnight in Paris, Gil (Owen Wilson) jumps into a vintage automobile and somehow motors back into Paris' Golden Age, where he meets Fitzgerald, listens to Cole Porter serenade flappers, and drops in on Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) as she savagely critiques Picasso's latest masterpiece. Gil finds himself drawn toward Picasso's muse (Marion Cotillard), who, like Gil, romanticizes Paris' past.

Filmmakers are fond of throwing together lovers from different eras and forcing them to choose between their present life and true love in a time that is (despite the lack of modern plumbing and medicine) invariably disentangled from modern cares: simpler, happier, and terribly romantic. Midnight in Paris works better than most because it challenges the usual predictable premises and eschews the usual ridiculous time travel vehicles. Wilson's earnestness sells the plot; his sweet, befuddled mien makes Gil the most likable Woody Allen protagonist we may ever meet.

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Midnight in Paris (rated PG-13 for sexual references and alcohol use) slyly critiques the human tendency to bemoan the emptiness and frivolity of every generation-our propensity to see the foreign as superior to the familiar, and believe that changing our setting can change ourselves.

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