(Woody Allen, 2011)
Opening with a loving near three minute montage of static shots of many of the most familiar and touristy parts of central Paris seems more foreword than prologue; a statement of theme. Paris is lovely, Paris is inspirational. That's it. Allen seems content with that, adding the admittedly minor theme of the power and fallacy of nostalgia later. But then this is a film of modest scale; modest laughs, modest pleasures, modest ambition. It's minor key period Allen, with less substance than any of his other excursions into the past, and a disconcerting dose of fluffiness to it, which might partly explain why it's been his greatest commercial success for decades.
The high concept: a Hollywood screenwriter with hopes of becoming a serious novelist vacationing in Paris with his fiancee and her parents finds himself transported back to that City in the 1920s each night at midnight, partying with the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso and Dali, and having Gertrude Stein critique his book.
Based around such an insubstantial gag - Wilson's Gil professes shock to meet his many heroes in the flesh as they live up to their popular images - Allen has fun with his material, having Hemingway go on about hunting, War, boxing and bravery at any opportunity, while Dali (played by a single scene-stealing Adrian Brody) is obsessed with incorporating a "rhinoceros" into his work and hangs out with Bunuel and Man Ray. There is a light love story, with Marion Cotillard displaying yet again just how great she looks in a 1920s frock, but the scenes of the tensions between Gil and his fiancee (a spiky Rachel McAdams) together with realistically strained social events with her parents and friends are probably the best in the film. The social unease, foibles and pretensions of pseudo-intellectuals are Allen's true, natural subject matter, and he shows an ease whenever he approaches that territory absent from much of the rest of the somewhat contrived narrative here.
Still, it's mildly entertaining, Michael Sheen is terrific as a classic pretentious Allen romantic rival, Wilson is a surprisingly natural Allen hero, and the sensual pleasures are manifold; from some lovely Cole Porter on the soundtrack to Darius Khondji's cinematography, an attractive cast rounded out by Carla Bruni and Léa Seydoux, and of course the beauty of Paris itself. Which is where we - and Allen - came in...