A writer filled with a nostalgia for Paris in the 1920s finds himself inexplicably visiting the City of Lights' Golden Age in this winning comedy from director Woody Allen. The Sony Pictures Classics release received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
By CBSNews.com senior editor David Morgan
An opening montage depicts scenic shots of one of the world's great cities, accompanied by a jazz score. You MIGHT think director Woody Allen was repeating the opening of "Manhattan," his 1979 paean to his hometown. But unlike that classic, "Midnight in Paris" opens without a narrator's literary attempt to distill the city's attractions.
Perhaps it's because the Paris of today - from its cafes and boulevards to the monuments and bridges straddling a magnificent river - is not the preoccupation of this film's protagonist.
Instead, it is a Paris long passed.
Gil (Owen Wilson), visiting France with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams), is a screenwriter whose novelistic ambitions are driven in part by his fascination with Paris of the 1920s - a heady period when the giant names of art and literature (Hemingway, Stein, Picasso) made Paris the center of the world.
Our introduction to Gil - during a lunch with his prospective in-laws (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) - shows us a brash man who is not self-censoring when characterizing Inez's father's politics as the views of a "demented lunatic."
If "Midnight in Paris" had been filmed 40 years ago, Woody Allen would easily have slipped into this role (though Allen has said he rewrote the script away from an East Coast neurotic character to one more suitable for Wilson's easy-going style).
Gil and Inez explore the city's environs in the company of her friend Paul (Michael Sheen), a visiting professor who acts an authority of all things - certainly of French art, history and wine. ("Pedantic," that's the word.)
It's not beyond Paul to even dispute the knowledge of a Rodin Museum guide (Carla Bruni), whom Gil - oblivious to the facts himself - is happy to back up, if only to see Paul embarrassed.
Unwilling to spend more time with Paul, Gil begs off an invitation to attend a dance club, and instead opts for wandering the streets of Paris back to his hotel. It isn't long before he's lost.
As a nearby church bell tolls twelve, Gil watches a vintage Peugeot pull up nearby. A champagne-swilling passenger gets out and entices Gil to join their traveling party.
Befuddled, Gil complies.
Gil soon finds himself at a party in which the guests are dressed in 1920s fashions, with a piano player who looks amazingly similar to Cole Porter.
Here Gil meets the Fitzgeralds - F. Scott (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (Alison Pill). He begins to suspect something is amiss, but is too enamored with meeting his literary hero to question the impossibility. Instead, he accepts Zelda's invitation to split: "I'm bored, he's bored, we're all bored!" she says.
Gil's adventure through Paris continues at a club featuring dancer Josephine Baker. This does not make sense.
At another bar Gil meets Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), who espouses his literary credo ("It was a good book because it was an honest book. And that's what war does to men. And there's nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud. Unless you die gracefully. And then it's not only noble, but brave"), and even offers an opinion on Gil's new novel.
Ecstatic, Gil promises to bring a copy of his work to Hemingway, but soon finds he cannot re-locate the bar where they'd met. It doesn't exist.
Inez is understandably dismissive of Gil's claim to have spent the night with The Giants. His "dream" only seems to reinforce her view that Gil is "more than happy living in a complete state of perpetual denial."
She also rejects Gil's entreaties to join him - to experience what he has. "You've been wondering why I've been acting strange all day?" he says. "You're about to find out - and you're going to wonder why I wasn't acting MORE strange!"
After humoring him for a while, Inez departs, leaving him alone . . .
. . . But not for long. As the clock chimes twelve, the mysterious car arrives again, and whisks Gil off to the salon of Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), who is engaged in a heated debate with Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) about the artistic worth of his latest painting, "La Baigneuse (The Bather)."
Stein reads the opening passage of Gil's offered novel, a story set in a nostalgia shop that specializes in memorabilia:
"Out of the Past was the name of the store, and its products consisted of memories. What was prosaic and even vulgar for one generation had been transmuted by the mere passing of years to a status at once magical and also camp."
"I love it," says Adriana (Marion Cotillard), an artist's muse and lover of Picasso.
Leave it to the Surrealists - like Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) and Man Ray (Tom Cordier) - to be accepting of Gil's peculiar circumstance - a man existing in two different time periods. "So far, I see nothing strange," says Man Ray.
Filmmaker Luis Bunuel is less understanding of Gil's suggestion that he direct a tale of guests forever trapped at a dinner party. "But I don't get it. Why don't they just walk out of the room?" he asks.
Straddling two different time periods does provide Gil with choice ammunition to use against Paul.
But Gil's growing need to visit a Paris of nearly a century past - and his fascination with Adriana, clearly a creature of her time (hey, she smokes!) - creates a schism between himself and his fiancee.
Meanwhile, Inez's father - concerned about Gil's nocturnal pursuits - visits a detective agency to have Gil tailed. For a man who craves answers, it only produces more questions.
"Midnight in Paris" is a clever example of Woody Allen's unique brand of urban character comedy, mixed with absurdist humor and the author's appreciation of artistic striving.
But the film's greatest strength is its examination of the power and allure of nostalgia - how a vision of times past can cloud our ability to fully see and appreciate our present (and future).
One thing is proven: It is easy for people in every time to mistake the past as being better or more interesting - or, as Yogi Berra might say, "Nostalgia ain't what it used to be."
Director Woody Allen - who first experienced Paris in the 1960s during shooting of "What's New, Pussycat," and later filmed "Everyone Says I Love You" partly in the City of Lights - said he aimed to show the city with the sort of glow he recalled from past big-screen takes on Paris. "I wanted to show the city emotionally, the way I felt about it," Allen said at the Cannes Film Festival. "It didn't matter to me how real it was or what it reflected. I just wanted it to be the way I saw Paris. Paris through my eyes."
For "Midnight in Paris" Allen received Academy Award nominations for his direction and original screenplay, in addition to citations from the Directors Guild and Writers Guild.
Woody Allen filming along the Seine with Marion Cotillard, Alison Pill and Owen Wilson.
Allen has directed nearly 50 films, including "Sleeper," "Annie Hall," "Hannah and Her Sisters," "The Purple Rose of Cairo," "Zelig," and "Crimes and Misdemeanors." In recent years he has set his films in London ("Match Point," "You Will Meet a Talk Dark Stranger"), Barcelona ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") and, in his next film, Rome.
Owen Wilson's past credits include "Meet the Parents," "Bottle Rocket," "Zoolander," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Behind Enemy Lines," "I Spy," "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," "Wedding Crashers," "Night at the Museum," "Marley & Me," and voice work for "Cars," "Cars 2," and "Fantastic Mr. Fox."
Corey Stoll ("NCIS," "Law & Order: LA") told Movieline he approached the character of Ernest Hemingway by playing a mythological representation - as Hemingway mythologized himself.
Stoll's other film credits include "Lucky Number Slevin," "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men," "Salt" and the upcoming "The Bourne Legacy."
Director Woody Allen, with French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Owen Wilson, in Paris on July 27, 2010, during the shooting of Allen's "Midnight in Paris."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, surrounded by bodyguards, is seen on the set of "Midnight in Paris," in which his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy acts, in Paris, Wednesday, July 28, 2010.
Michael Sheen, Rachel McAdams and director Woody Allen pose on the red carpet before the opening ceremony and screening of "Midnight in Paris," presented out-of-competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival on May 11, 2011, in Cannes, France.
Actors Adrien Brody, left, and Owen Wilson attend the "Midnight in Paris" premiere at the Palais des Festivals during the 64th Cannes Film Festival on May 11, 2011, in Cannes, France.
Actress Lea Seydoux - who has a pivotal role in "Midnight in Paris" - attends the premiere at the Palais des Festivals during the 64th Cannes Film Festival on May 11, 2011, in Cannes, France.
Actress Rachel McAdams attends The Cinema Society & Thierry Mugler screening of "Midnight in Paris" at Tribeca Grand Screening Room on May 17, 2011, in New York.
McAdams' other film credits include "The Notebook," "Wedding Crashers" (in which she appeared opposite Owen Wilson), "The Time Traveler's Wife," "Sherlock Holmes" and its sequel, "State of Play," and "The Vow."
Director Woody Allen and wife Soon-Yi Previn attend The Cinema Society & Thierry Mugler screening after-party for "Midnight in Paris" at the Soho Grand Hotel Club Room on May 17, 2011, in New York.
From left: Actors Michael Sheen, Owen Wilson, Kurt Fuller, and Mimi Kennedy arrive at the premiere of "Midnight in Paris" at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theatre on May 18, 2011, in Beverly Hills, Calif.