Perfect Paris Travel Movie

Midnight in Paris on the Seine
The Seine River, Paris

Destination: Paris

Movie: Midnight in Paris (NEW 2011), written and directed by Woody Allen

What a delicious confection of a movie. If you are craving a hearty boeuf Bourguignon of a movie, go elsewhere, but if a simple little meringue melting on your tongue sounds heavenly–this movie is the dish for you. But it may be the best Paris travel  movie of the decade. It shows EVERY major tourist site, instead of  just the usual establishing shot of the Eiffel Tower.

Notre Dame, Gil with French guide, played by 1st lady of France
Notre Dame, Gil with French guide, played by 1st lady of France

It really doesn’t matter whether you are in the pro- or anti- Woody Allen category, Midnight in Paris is a treat for a) lovers of Paris; b) lovers of literature; c) lovers of art; d) lovers of the past (as in: any time but the present would be an improvement); e) lovers.

Monet's Garden
Gil Pender and his fiancé at Monet's Garden

Briefly, Gil Pender, a Hollywood writer who wants to write a novel is engaged to a beautiful young woman who doesn’t get his yearning for a romanticized Paris (in the twenties, in the rain). Everything changes when, at midnight one night, he travels to the Paris of the 20’s and starts meeting literary lights and famous artists. He ultimately has to navigate between his dissatisfaction with his present day life and his fantasy.

Paris in the Rain
Paris in the Rain

My friend Jane Boursaw over at Reel Life With Jane said that she would prefer to see Woody Allen playing out his own neurosis, but I have to part company with Jane on this one. Owen Wilson, as Gil,  channels Woody, but is a much more attractive actor. Maybe Woody has finally realized how obscene it looks to have him romancing women 40 years younger than he is (regardless of how his own private life goes down).

If you’re trying to place Owen Wilson, it is because the dumb bulb characters he usually plays would not be bright enough to recognize Zelda  and [amazon_link id=”1883011841″ target=”_blank” ]Scott Fitzgerald[/amazon_link] if he ran into them at a post-midnight party in Paris. And if you enjoy playing this movie’s game of “Isn’t that–oh, you know, the famous 1920’s surrealist painter?” and can pick up a French phrase here and there, then you probably don’t go to a lot of buddy movies.

[amazon_image id=”015121185X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Complete Poems and Plays: 1909-1950[/amazon_image]The writer gets picked up in a 1920’s cab by a guy named Tom Eliot and Gil stammers, “Thomas Stearns Eliot? T.S. Eliot? Prufrock is practically my theme song.” Nope, not the kind of dialogue that Owen usually gets to say, but he’s winsome and convincing as the movie script writer/wannabe novelist who is in love with the idea of a Paris that never quite existed outside of misty-eyed memoirs like Ernest Hemingway’s [amazon_link id=”143918271X” target=”_blank” ]Moveable Feast[/amazon_link].

While all the casting of the famous people seemed spot on, there are two that really made the movie for me.  Kathy Bates is genius as Gertrude Stein.  And Corey Stoll, who plays Hemingway had me choking on my nachos with laughter.  I heard him interviewed on PBS and read this interview in the Los Angeles Times, and so I knew that he had no intention of presenting a realistic Hemingway, but rather the one that the celebrity-worshiping Gil would conjure up if he imagined Hemingway. He sounded like he was reading his dialogue from a Hemingway novel. The performance was brave and true. Because that is what a man does. He speaks the truth. He kills the bull.

Just one final thing–as I said above, this could be a travel guidebook–and certainly is a perfect travel movie to watch if you are heading for Paris, but Woody Allen shows Paris as we have not seen it before.  Everything is saturated in a golden light, giving it the dreamlike quality that matches Gil’s misty-eyed view of the city. The only one of the photographs above that even begins to capture that tint is the one shot in the rain on a bridge over the Seine.

Photos come from the official movie site, which also has a lot of other interesting information, including a trailer.

Have you seen this movie? If yes, what did you think? If not, will you?

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

18 thoughts on “Perfect Paris Travel Movie

  1. For me, Allen gives up towards the end by having the character say the theme of the movie, it is so over stated that it punctured the film like a balloon. It is worth seeing because it has those fun aspect that you mention but i felt it committed a kind of hari kari 4/5 ths into it. But its worth getting out of the heat for.

    1. You’re right, this is not the kind of movie that you should think about very much, it is just a fluffy entertainment. But the casting and the shoots in Paris make it totally worthwhile.

  2. Woody Allen’s films usually leave me exhausted, but this one sounds like it is worth the time out of my life. I’ll have to give it a chance.

  3. I’m not much of a Woody Allen fan, but this movie looks worth a try. Thanks for the suggestion – I’m always looking for good ones to add to my Netflix queue.

  4. Though I’m not the biggest Woody Allen fan, particularly of late, this movie was so wonderfully written and acted that I saw it twice! That’s a first for me — at least with regard to his movies.

  5. I loved this movie. It’s the perfect summer repast. How fun it was to identify the next character. Katherine Bates as Gertrude Stein was so believable. And I had just seen the Picasso exhibit at the VMFA in Richmond, Va., so it was wonderful to see Picasso and his true colors. I was ready to board a plane to Paris after seeing the movie. What a perfect combination to awaken my cultural and travel senses.

    1. My feelings, exactly, Cynthia. Except I have not been to the new VMFA in Richmond. Last time I was there, they were just getting ready to enlarge it and I’m eager to see the new space.

  6. As the mom of an adopted son, I’m firmly in the anti-Woody camp, but I may ease up a bit on my personal boycott and catch this film. So glad he’s not in it!

  7. Hey, thanks for the link, Vera! Yeah, I definitely see what you’re saying. I guess it would have been difficult for Woody to play the Owen Wilson role here, unless his fiance was at least somewhat near his age. And Owen has that sort of quirky quality where he can pull off a role like this.

    Still … I love seeing Woody in his own movies, too. He’ll be onscreen in his next film, Bop Decameron, so we’ll see how that goes.

    By the way, I saw ‘Monte Carlo’ today, which is kind of a fluffy throwback to old movies like ‘Three Coins in the Fountain.’ While the acting isn’t particularly memorable, the scenery is beautiful – they start out in Paris, then travel to Monte Carlo. They even had a scene where one of the girls was watching ‘To Catch a Thief’ on TV, and some of the scenes in this movie were shot in the exact location as that movie.

    Like I said, the acting isn’t great and the story is completely unbelievable. But the scenery is nice.

  8. Agreed that Woody Allen is far past the age where he should be romancing the likes of Rachel McAdams- but watching Owen Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums and knowing he co-writes a lot of Wes Anderson’s films makes me more inclined to believe him as a bright bulb. 🙂 Can’t wait to see this!

  9. I, too, loved the movie. I not only want to see it again, I want to go back to Paris again! Woody Allen at his best.

  10. This movie has stayed with me long after leaving the theater a few weeks ago. I just loved it! Cannot wait to see it again. I agree Bates as Stein was indeed a stand-out character. I didn’t want it to end – but loved the ending just the same. A feast for the hungry traveler and arts and culture junkie, as well as for those just looking for a fun movie reflecting the charm and mystique of Paris and the quirky and brilliant Woody Allen flair. Time to return… (to the theater and Paris).

    1. Ahh, I am delighted to find so many kindred souls. Gina and Alexandra we seem to be on the same wave length indeed. And Alexandra, that’s amazing about Corey Stoll–did you read Jane Boursaw’s review? She has some kind of connection with Stoll, also. I’m beginning to feel practically related to the guy.

  11. You put your finger on the reason I had a problem with a lot of Woody Allen films. Since I lived in Paris for 25 years, I’m really looking forward to this “meringue” but it isn’t playing at our local theater yet. Cannot wait to see Corey Stoll in it, either. (He’s dating my cousin’s daughter and is the nicest guy you could imagine.)

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