Owen Wilson plays the protagonist, Gil, who is a sucessful screenwriter and aspiring novelist, engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams), but more in love with Paris and the romance of Paris. Gil's longing to give up working in Hollywood and settle down in Paris to write is a stressor on his relationship with Inez, which the audience will pretty quickly realize is doomed. (The plotline where one party realizes the person he/she is committed to is the wrong one is simple and familiar. In this case, it's how you get there that's interesting. And, there is a significant unexpected plot twist that freshens it up.)
Gil and Inez are in Paris with her parents, John (Kurt Fuller) and Helen (Mimi Kennedy). John is an industrialist, there to work on a corporate merger. Helen is along to shop, and the young people as tourists. John and Helen, and to a slightly lesser extent Inez, are painful caricature ugly Americans with disdain for all things French, so a further strain on the relationship. So is Inez's old friend Paul (Micheal Sheen)an academic who shows up to lecture at the Sorbonne and doesn't mind rekindling an old flame despite the presence of his current girlfriend Carol (Nina Arianda). Paul is a caricature, too, a pompous know-it-all snob and general ass. That's all right, since John, Helen, and Paul exist in the plot only as speed bumps on Gil's way to enlightenment.
Gil's revelation happens when, walking alone at night as midnight strikes, lost and a bit drunk, he accepts a ride from a hilarious party in a classic Pugeot limousine, and winds up at a party at "Jean Cocteau's place", where the man singing and playing the piano looks uncannily like Cole Porter, and he makes the acquaintance of "the Fitzgeralds--Zelda and F. Scott." That first night, he sees Josephine Baker at the notorious "Bricktop's", and is befriended by Earnest Hemmingway, who offers to have Gil's novel vetted by Gertrude Stein.
When daylight comes, he finds himself back in the Paris of the 21st Century, and the plot complicates as he tries to balance his gobsmacked wonder at what has happened to him with his fiancee's grating mundanity.
Owen Wilson gets to play a bit against type here, which is good. Instead of his usual clueless surfer-dude character, Gil is acknowleged to be a bright man and a successful and well-off screenwriter, although his mind and sensibility don't mesh with those of Inez or her family and friends. Gil finds Paris of the 20's a much more congenial milieu, although it's still fun to see his gut-punched reactions when he realizes he's been doing the Charleston with a famous author, gets invited to critique Picasso's latest painting, or having his face sketched on a napkin by Salvador Dali.
Marion Cotillard plays the 20's-era woman whose easy charm and magnetism draws Gil away from the edgy Inez, and she is excellent in the role.
Many kudos to Allen and his casting directors, Stéphane Foenkinos,Patricia Kerrigan DiCerto, and Juliet Taylor, for their spot-on choices for actors to play the historical greats. It was often possible for us to recognize characters before they were introduced. This is a film that would probably repay frame-by-frame study, since Georgie was sure that there were recognizable glimpses of other famous people in the party backgrounds.
The cinematography was also excellent; both 21st century Paris by day and 1920's Paris by night are shown as beautiful and intriguing. Indeed, Georgie declared that the opening montage of famous sites was almost worth the price of admission alone.
Allen's script is witty and clever, although one gets the impression that dialog given characters like Hemingway and Man Ray is based more on the way they wrote than the way they would have spoken.
There's really nothing profound about this film. One could wonder if Gil represents Allen, who is of course well known as a screenwriter but not for his small prose output, but that's beside the point. The point the sheer audacity of the story and the whether or not nostalgia is a good or a bad thing--.
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