Woody Allen continues his obsession with Europe (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the upcoming To Rome With Love) and adds a little time travel into the mix with this delightful slice of whimsy. Owen Wilson picks up the Allen role as Gil, a writer tagging along with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) visiting her parents as they embark on a business merger in Paris. Gil has made a name for himself writing not terribly good films for Hollywood, but has aspirations for writing novels, and dreams of moving back to Paris, whereas Inez and her disapproving parents seem far more level headed. On a late night drunken stroll Gil finds himself in the 1920s world he so wishes to live in, and gets to meet his idols from a time long passed.
It all sounds a little bit ridiculous - a Woody Allen time travel film - and my parents and girlfriend, with whom I watched the film, were expecting something quite different and tuned out quite early on - but I thought it was wonderful. Wilson is a perfect fit as the neurotic Gil, refusing to tolerate Inez's pedantic know-it-all friend Paul (Michael Sheen, brilliantly punchable) and forever wishing he'd been born in a different time.
Many films would dumb down the references to the past, and I'll admit there were many I didn't get, but the characters portrayed are so rich and interesting that I'm encouraged to discover more about them on my own. I'm ashamed to say that I'm unfamiliar with the likes of F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, and have only a passing knowledge of Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso and T. S. Eliot, though I think I got most of the Bunuel and Dali references (I've even seen The Exterminating Angel, the film Gil proposes to Bunuel, and it's not even on the List), and as for the others I'm now making an effort to better myself by looking into their works. This is exactly what a film should do, not work out what its audience already knows and repeat that to them, but provide an opportunity to further their own knowledge.
The supporting cast is incredible. Kathy Bates is Stein, Tom Hiddleston and Scott Pilgrim's drummer Alison Pill are the Fitzgeralds and Marion Cotillard is delightful as Gil's 1920s love interest Adriana, but it is the brief appearance of Adrien Brody as a flamboyantly insane Dali that steals the show ("I see rhinoceroses!"). Rachel McAdams plays a fairly thin character in the almost-bitchy, not understanding fiance, and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) begin to grate after a while as their characters refuse to develop throughout the film.
All the typical Parisian tourist attractions are acknowedged, and got out the way, early on in a brief montage. This is nice, as it'd be a shame to ignore them, for they aren't part of the story, but they show perhaps the draw of the city to Inez and her family, whereas Gil prefers the layers of life and history underneath. The present day scenes are shot crisply, everything looking bright and new, whereas those set in the past are softer, slightly fuzzy around the edges, and with such a warm palette it's no wonder Gil wants to live there. It has a more mysterious atmosphere full of soirees and flapper dresses.
It's not for everyone, and many may find it just too odd to come to grips with, but if you are a Woody Allen fan (and you should be), and have either a good knowledge of the 1920s or want a place to build yours from, check this out.
Choose film 8/10