3 Stars — Challenging

The angst Woody Allen portrays in his characters is easier to view when Owen Wilson is the actor rather than Allen himself. Not only does Wilson present a more approachable neurotic, but it’s easier to believe that his beautiful co-stars are actually interested in having a relationship with him.

That’s not to say Midnight in Paris isn’t vintage Allen. Written and directed by him, the film is another creative and witty depiction of an anxious man whose success only leaves him all the more insecure. But Allen adds another dimension to this film that takes the audience on a journey into a world of literary and artistic giants.

Using the beauty of Paris as a mystical backdrop, the film begins when Gil (Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) join her parents on a pre-wedding trip to the magical city. Although Gil is a very successful scriptwriter, he longs to become a novelist and join the ranks of the great writers of the past. Inez is a beautiful and privileged young woman who is clearly enamored with Gil’s Hollywood notoriety, but annoyed with him as a person.

Inez’s father, John (Kurt Fuller), is a racist businessman whose company is merging with a French firm and he has come as the American representative. Her mother, Helen (Mimi Kennedy), is equally shallow as she is absorbed in living an extravagant life. Neither of them likes Gil.

This dislike is amplified when Gil begins to walk the streets of Paris at the midnight hour. It is in the dark of night that Gil’s life takes a very unexpected turn. We won’t share the nature of that adventure except to note that one of the results of these nightly walks is his romance with Adriana (Marion Cotillard).

Finishing out the ensemble cast is a pedantic know-it-all named Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife, Carol (Nina Ananda). Their seductive insertion into the relationship of Gil and Inez creates a tension that magnifies the neurotic nature of the film. And there are great cameo appearances by actors portraying past Parisian artists and writers, including Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein.

There is no doubt that a Woody Allen film is a unique creation of witty neurosis. It is also true that he seldom brings about any resolution to the tension he creates within the characters or their lives. This film takes both of those elements to a new level. That life is far different from the lives of his characters for most of us makes his films more a challenge than an inspiration. But this film makes the challenge thoughtfully accessible and humorously enjoyable.


» What do you think is the source of Gil’s insecurity? How much does Inez factor into it? How have your relationships made you feel more secure or insecure?

» It’s difficult to watch the way Gil is disrespected by Inez and her family. How would you respond to their behavior? Why do you think Gil put up with it? Were you pleased with the ending? Why or why not?

» Allen suggests that most of us are fascinated with the past. Do you look to the past or to the future for inspiration? Why?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.