Woody Allen created a love song to Manhattan in his movie of the same title, filling it with beautiful images of the city. Over thirty years later, he has created another love song, this time to Paris. The opening images before the credits are glorious images of the city from morning to evening. If you have never been to Paris, this opening may just convince you to go.
In his latest romantic comedy, Owen Wilson plays Gil, the Woody Allen persona, complete with all the introspective quirks and delivery we’ve come to expect from Allen on Allen, but I found myself charmed by the premise—the would-be novelist, currently Hollywood writer, yearns for the “moveable feast” that Hemingway described in the 1920s Paris, a world he sees as much less hectic than the present. One night, as he wanders alone, the clock strikes midnight and voilà, he finds himself in that same 1920s Paris, with Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, young Hemingway, Cole Porter, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and many others.
An article from the New York Times explains that background that some viewers may not know, since part of the fun of the film is recognizing the cultural cast of characters who helped create the modern art world. (Similar to identifying James Cameron’s Titanic characters before they speak.)
There is a salute to that wonderful moment from Annie Hall where Marshall McLuhan appears out of nowhere to put down a pompous Columbia TV media teacher. Here a pedantic friend of Gil’s girlfriend, also a teacher, is going on about a painting of Picasso’s that Gil had actually heard discussed by Picasso and Gertrude Stein. He is able to put the teacher/art critic in his place.
Wilson is engaged to Rachel McAdams, who we can quickly see is not for him. In his 1920s adventure he falls in love with one of Picasso’s mistresses, played by Marion Cotillard. When they discover they love each other, she reveals that she wants to leave the frantic world they live in and be in La Belle Epoque. And at the stroke of the clock, she gets her wish. She wants to stay in the past. Gil realizes as much as he likes the past, he wants to remain in the present.
Many of Allen’s themes are there: the struggle for fidelity to another, fear of death, the role of art and the artist, the tribute of a great city. One critic has stated, “Old men shouldn’t make movies.” I think he’s wrong. I found the film charming, and I’m looking forward to going to Paris someday.