*Midnight in Paris (PG-13)
Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Kimball's Peak Three
In life, there are a few things on which you can always depend, one of them being a new Woody Allen film annually.
Each time Allen releases a movie, he faces his own history. I'm referring to his relationship with Soon-Yi and his penchant for depicting September-to-May romances, but also the truism that his best work continues to slip further into the past.
It's easy to romanticize pictures like Manhattan or Annie Hall, but romanticism will take you only so far, even in Paris, the setting of Allen's latest film, thankfully his best in years.
Owen Wilson seemed a strange choice for Allen's new leading man, but he fits nicely as Gil, a hack screenwriter with novelist dreams who's in Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). There, they run into the insufferable Paul (Michael Sheen), who was once Inez's professor and is now a professional blowhard, determined to spread his knowledge across the land.
Gil loves Paris and wishes that he lived there. But he's surrounded by ugly Americans. None are able to just stop and enjoy the City of Lights, so Gil takes to himself, walking through the city. But Paris is big, and soon he gets lost and it's late, so he accepts a ride in a classic automobile that's straight out of the '20s.
Suddenly, he finds himself at a party talking to a couple called Scott (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (Alison Pill), who, as he points out, look exactly like F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. It turns out they do, because they are: Somehow, that antique Peugeot has transported Gil back to the time and place he loves most, and it isn't long before he's rubbing elbows with Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll, who's particularly good), having his novel read by Gertrude Stein, and obsessing over Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a lover of Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo).
Soon, Gil's spending every night almost a century in the past, and brushing off his future wife and her parents during the day to work on his book. He's inspired, but as he gets closer to Adriana, he gets farther away from Inez. Gil thinks all his dreams are coming true, but what he doesn't yet understand is that his infatuation with the Jazz Age mirrors Adriana's obsession with Belle Époque, the stretch of time that preceded the period in which she was reared.
Essentially, Allen has created a literary Brigadoon for Gil, and this allows him to give actors a day or two of work playing historical figures. More often than not, it's a treat. Plus, it answers the question: What would happen if Salvador Dali, Man Ray and Luis Buñuel sat down together in a bar?
It's a nicely executed, clever idea, if neither as groundbreaking nor as intelligent as Allen's earlier work. Wilson makes for a decent Allen surrogate, self-conscious and insecure but also smart, funny and charming, and Cotillard is alluring enough to make time travel worth it. And there's a larger message: Appreciate your current circumstances rather than dwelling on the past. It's a good lesson for our daily lives — not just the way we think about Woody Allen.