It’s really heartening to see Woody Allen knock one out of the park so late in his career, and further seeing it embraced by the summer audience normally seeking explodiness. The story is just the right kind of simple—Gil (Owen Wilson) is a writer visiting Paris with his nagging fiancé and her disapproving parents. He’s enchanted with the city itself and its history, but it’s a love none of his entourage share and so he walks alone late into the evening trying to figure out how to get his life back on track. And ends up walking back in time to Paris in the 1920s.
Wilson is a fantastic choice to stand in for Woody. He’s convincing in delivering Woody’s stream of consciousness observational dialog while substituting his natural charm for Woody’s various tics and idiosyncrasies.
Woody uses the conceit to set up a breezy and honest meditation on nostalgia as Gil interacts with a series of his idols including Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein and quickly becomes infatuated with one of Picasso’s mistresses, Adriana (Marion Cotillard.) The relationship works in the context of film at least, where romances can never bloom at a real-world pace, and the bit players get a lot of the best material. At times I wondered if Woody was weaving actual quotes from Hemmingway and others into the dialog but I’m not familiar enough with the players to know for sure.
Gil’s current-day supporting cast isn’t as successful. They make you long to get back to the 1920s and not much more and it’s not really the performers’ fault. Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen are fine, but the material they are given to work with is one-note, and overly broad. I wish Woody could have been a bit more confident in letting them be more nuanced and trust the viewer to accept things between Gil and his fiancé aren’t going to work out without turning her and her surrounding cast into cartoons.
But that’s a minor criticism that never sinks the film. The film has been cut to a blistering 90 minutes that never has a chance to wear out its welcome. It’s a perfect companion piece for Woody’s own Purple Rose of Cairo without quite reaching that film’s classic status. But it’s great fun nonetheless. Highly recommended.