A moving feast

Woody Allen’s love letter to the Lost Generation

Midnight in Paris
Pageant Theatre. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

The new picture written and directed by Woody Allen is a special kind of delight.

It’s a love letter to the City of Light, it’s a frisky little foray into “golden age” nostalgia and literary time travel, and it’s another wistful comic adventure for the Woody Allen movie persona (embodied here, with bemused élan by Owen Wilson).

Gil Pender (Wilson) is a struggling young writer vacationing in Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her haughtily patrician parents. The uncertainties in that set of relationships are already mounting when Gil, left briefly to his own devices, finds himself transported, every night at the stroke of 12, into the Paris of the 1920s and the company of writers and artists of the Lost Generation.

What ensues is a charmingly bittersweet mixture of romantic comedy and farcical literary fantasy. Pender’s whimsical nocturnal adventures among the denizens of the Paris avant-garde get particular heft from boldly realized versions of Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Pablo Picasso (a mostly silent Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), and Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody). And Gil’s romantic travails get both complicated and clarified by his nocturnal dalliances with an adventurous Paris flapper named Adriana (an excellent Marion Cotillard).

Stoll’s robustly caricatured Hemingway and Brody’s multi-accented and compulsively “surreal” Dalí are special highlights. Bates makes a properly august Gertrude Stein, and Wilson is especially fine as an Allenesque innocent abroad. He renders the Woody persona in a more tender and genuinely romantic mode, and in a couple of quietly emotional moments may have surpassed anything either of them has done before.

Allen’s script gets a small multitude of major figures into the mix—Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Henri Matisse, Man Ray, Luis Buñuel, etc.—but his film’s presiding spirit (along with Hemingway and Stein) may well be Cole Porter, whose songs figure centrally in the time travel, the love story and the soundtrack.

Allen’s celebration of the avant-garde of the period omits the music of Satie, Milhaud, and Anthiel—Porter’s saucy pop elegance is clearly closer to his own artistic heart.