Midnight in Paris 2011 ★★★½

If you’ve been following the critical responses to Woody Allen’s films over the last ten years you will have noticed the ever present phrase, ’a return to form’. Every one of his films of the past decade, at some point, has been proclaimed as the director’s return to form yet this phrase is really a euphemism for, ‘well it’s not as bad as The Curse of the Jade Scorpion’. Because nothing Allen has created in the past ten years could ever, really, be classed as a return to form when his output in the ‘70s and ‘80s was full of genuine masterpieces. Which brings us to Midnight in Paris, his latest so called return to form.

Owen Wilson is a surprisingly great Allen replacement, something his recent films have sorely lacked. He manages to capture the neurosis, charm and intelligence of the writer-director without coming across as a mere poor imitation. Whilst the plot may resemble an intellectual version of Nicholas Lyndhurst’s Goodnight Sweetheart the magical realism and Parisian setting also recalls Jacques Rivette (particularly Celine and Julie Go Boating). Although philosophical and dealing in potentially weighty themes there is a lightness of touch and a sense that Allen is having genuine fun with the story (something often absent in his latest work).

But I must come back to the phrase, ‘a return to form’, because for all its many charms (from the romantic depiction of Paris, the universally strong performances and endearing conceit) does it really compare with Annie Hall or any of his other many earlier classics? Sadly, for me, the answer is no. It’s undoubtedly charming, amusing, nostalgic yet modern but in twenty years time it is hard to see people talking about the film in the same breath as Manhattan et al. Of course that doesn’t mean the film shouldn’t be appreciated for what it is, which is a very well made enchanting slice of magical realism.

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