Midnight in Paris

Yes, you can believe what you’ve been reading – “Midnight in Paris” really is the best Woody Allen film in a long time.

It’s a love letter to Paris, an ode to the Jazz age and the writers of the Lost Generation, and a romance with the past. It’s also the handoff of the baton of cinematic neurosis between Woody Allen and the film’s star, Owen Wilson.

Allen and Wilson have both formed their onscreen personalities out of their worries, frailties and sense of humor. Where there’s a long history of actors and actresses sounding unnatural with Allen’s distinct dialogue, Wilson carries it off without a scratch. It’s like everytime you envision Allen writing a word, you can almost see Wilson’s lips move.

Wilson plays Gil Pender, a scribe who cashed in as a screenwriter rather than follow his desire to be a novelist. He feels like a man from another time, and longs to have been in the Paris of the 1920s, preferably on a rainy day. On the eve of his marriage to prissy Inez (Rachel McAdams), he vacations in Paris. On a midnight stroll he gets his wish.

Each midnight, a classic car pulls up and takes him back in time, where he listens to Ernest Hemingway (an exuberant Corey Stall in a treasure of a performance) tell manly stories, gets literary advice from Gertrude Stein, and slips a valium to Zelda Fitzgerald. He falls for a flapper girl (torn between Rachel McAdams and Marion Cotillard in the City of Light – that’s my Parisian fantasy, too).

Like any romance, a love affair with the past tends to overlook the rough edges, like outdated dentistry. We call that sentimentality or nostalgia, and “Midnight in Paris” is in love with the past. It is also a warning against such “golden age thinking.” The twenties are easier to live with when you’re safely on the right side of the polio vaccination. The message of the movie has less to do with the past than to be in love with the present day.