From the opening montage and Sidney Bechet’s accompanying soprano sax you know that you’re in for a paean to Paris. Woody Allen scripted and directed this sweet, sentimental mix of fun and fantasy in which even the unbelievable is completely charming.
Young, laid-back screenwriter and aspiring novelist, Gil (Owen Wilson) joins his soon-to-be wife Inez (Rachel McAdams) to Paris on a junket. They’ve been invited to join Inez’s parents who are on a business trip.
The parents are insufferable. Gil has a bit too much to drink, becomes tipsy and decides to walk the streets of Paris. Night falls and at the stroke of midnight an ancient car appears, full of revelers. They turn out to be Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in the 1920’s. Gil is enticed to hop aboard. That’s where the fun begins. Gil winds up at a raucous nightclub party in which Cole Porter is playing some of his sophisticated songs and Hemingway is holding forth on the virtues of manhood. The Fitzgeralds are, of course, blotto.
Gil gets back to the hotel; back to the very spoiled Inez, and the materialistic, Francophobe parents. Gil and Inez run into another couple from California, obnoxious, pedantic Paul, a professor who once had an affair with Inez. Paul proceeds to make himself detestable with a pseudo-intellectual spree on everything from Porter to Picasso. He even picks an argument with a guide at the Rodin Museum (the ravishing Carla Bruni, wife of French President Nicholas Sarkozy). A fed up Gil wanders off again in the evening, and again hitches up with the 1920’s crowd. Corey Stoll, as Hemingway, is hilarious as he speaks his lines in the pitch perfect rhythm of his prose; Picasso hits on the luscious Adriana (exquisitely played by Marion Cotillard); and Kathy Bates is wonderful as Gertrude Stein, who agrees to read Gil’s draft of his novel.
The film is full of cameos – Adrien Brody is superb as Dali, for just one example. Spoken and visual inside jokes abound. Paris is brought to the screen brilliantly, as the daylight scenes seem to be deliberately slightly overexposed while the night scenes are dark, but twinkling with lights.
Gil inevitably falls for Adriana. She, in turn, longs for the Belle Epoque when Paris was alive with the genius of the Impressionists as well as great writers. What happens next in the mix among Gil, Adriana, Inez, Paul, the parents and the cameo players brings out Woody Allen’s message to enjoy the present and not be overwhelmed by the allure of things past. The movie is charming, nostalgic, and very witty. It is a departure from most anything Woody Allen has done before, and a very pleasant addition to his repertoire.