Woody Allen’s latest is an accomplished little diversion (it opened this year’s Cannes Film Festival) that shows Paris off to those of us who have never been (thankfully I have visited). The film opens with a long scenic and beautiful montage of Paris, complete with a jazz tune (with clarinet, of course). And I’ll admit I had the same dream thoughts as Allen’s hero, Owen Wilson’s Gil. Gil is traveling with his fiance and her parents, and is dissatisfied with his life. We know it before he does, but he’s dissatisfied with his fiance as well (Rachel McAdams as Inez, recently seen by me as Kate in Slings & Arrows) Never a fan of Owen Wilson, he projects an easy-going and naive persona that fits perfectly with his character here – a writer stuck cranking out popular movie scripts, when what he’d really like to be doing is working on his novel.
For Gil, Paris is the place he never should have left, what with his fantasies of Paris the ’20’s. Ah, that was the place to be for an artist. One night as he’s been walking around Paris, he sits down on some steps, lost. A vintage car drives up and stops in front of him, inviting him to get in and join them at a party. The party looks like a costume event, but when two people introduce themselves as F. SCott Fitzgerald and Zelda, we get the drift. Again, it takes Gil a little longer than the audience. He’s been taken to the venue of his dreams – Paris in the 1920’s.
A lot of the pleasure of watching this is the conceit (he’s been transported to the era and place he wishes he’d been born in) is all the people he meets: Besides the Fitzgerald’s, there’s Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway (Corey Hall does a killer Hemingway, a very playful caricature), Josephine Baler, the bullfighter Belmonte, Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates – Stein critiques the novel Gil is writing and gives him pointers and advice), Pablo Picasso, Djuna Barnes, Adrien Brody’s very funny Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Luis Bunuel, T.S. Eliot, Henri Matisse, Gauguin, Degas and Lautrec. Allen had a lot of fun with these characters, and some of the actors seemed to have as well. So did I.
Gil meets the lover (currently) of Picasso and is smitten. He confesses to her his love for Paris in the 20’s. Adriana (Marion Cotillard) confesses her love for an earlier era, la belle Époque. Suddenly they are there. She (from the 20’s) stays there (Paris of the 1890’s) and they say goodbye. He realizes that the place and time you find yourself in are the place you’re meant to be, and (he’s broken of with Izez) later walks off in the rain with another woman he’s met during his adventures, having decided to stay in Paris and live his dreams – in the present.
Well, who hasn’t had these fantasies anyway? Mine was to have lived in the time of the Romans. As a kid I loved those helmets with the red plumage!
If you generally like Woody’s films, this one is irresistible and comfortable.