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To Paris, With Love: Woody Allen returns to form with Midnight in Paris 

Woody Allen is back to his bread and butter with Midnight in Paris.

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From the trademark Windsor typeface on the title cards to the incredibly neurotic leading man, Midnight in Paris is distinctly Woody Allen. Not only that, but it's, arguably, his best work in years. Allen remains one of filmmaking's most successful and true-to-form auteurs, but it could be argued that since leaving his home city of New York, Allen hasn't been at his finest. Midnight in Paris, however, brings us back to classic Allen, while giving fantastical whimsy a fresh spin.

Gil (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter, and his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), join her parents for a pre-wedding vacation to Paris. Gil has fallen under the intoxicating spell of the city, and wants to pen his first novel there. Inez, on the other hand, would rather hang out with her intellectually elitist friends who also happen to be in Paris at the time. One night while walking home alone, Gil travels back in time at the strike of midnight. Gil yearns for the Paris of the roaring '20s and gets the opportunity to be on a first name basis with some of the era's biggest names in art and literature, including Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali.

If there's one thing Allen knows how to do best, it's create characters. Having a neurotic leading male character defines most Allen films, and Midnight in Paris doesn't differ in that respect. While earlier in his career Allen played the leading character, he now relies on some of Hollywood's biggest names to fill his shoes. Midnight in Paris calls upon Wilson to do the job and he does so in one of his best performances outside of the Wes Anderson franchise. Gil's character reminds us of other leading men in Allen's films, only his overanxiousness is slightly muted. Wilson, who can often be too over the top, pulls off the character and it's hard to imagine anyone else, aside from Allen himself, in the role.

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Allen has created a love letter to the city of Paris. Beautiful exterior shots of the city's most memorable landmarks, as well as the natural beauty from sun up until sun down introduce the audience to Paris, establishing it as one of the film's greatest characters. The way Gil talks about the city makes you long for an extended stay in the European hot spot. The audience gets to see the city through Gil's, and therefore Allen's, nostalgically tinted glasses.

Gil dreams of coming to Paris in the 1920s, imagining it to be a golden era for literature and art. When he gets his wish, here's where the film could have easily floundered, but instead shines. The idea of some of history's most important artists and writers coming to life seems ridiculous at first, and if not done properly would have been a disaster. Allen gives the actors free rein and most of them do a spectacular job of bringing their long-dead characters to life. While the portrayals may not always be historically accurate, the fantasy of it all makes up for it. The Hemingway character is the least believable of the film's historical characters, but the Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and Dali (Adrian Brody) characters sparkle.

Hoping to write the next great American novel, Gil finds his muse in a 1920s fashion designer named Adriana (Marion Cotillard). Like Gil, Adriana longs for a different time. For her, Paris' golden artistic era occurred at the turn of the century. The two bond over their shared feelings of nostalgia, though Gil has a difficult time at first seeing why she doesn't recognize the talent of her own generation. Though Gil's nostalgia comes to life with the era's artists and writers, working through the theme comes from his encounters with kindred-spirit Adriana.

There's romantic comedy and then there's romantic comedy through the lens of Woody Allen. Rather than cashing in on the clichés most often associated with romantic comedy, Allen combines romance with smart jokes and fantasy, which, in theory, is exactly what romantic comedy should be. Midnight in Paris finds Allen in a return to form, creating not only a love letter to the city of Paris, but also to the artists and writers who've inspired him.

Midnight in Paris

4 stars

Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and Marion Cotillard.

Written and directed by Woody Allen.

Rated PG-13.


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