Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another time travel movie for comparison. This week, it’s the Rachel McAdams Loves Time Travelers Edition. While plenty of actors have appeared in at least three time travel films during their careers, Rachel McAdams has specifically played the romantic interest of a time-traveling character on three different occasions. And that’s odd.
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)
Midnight in Paris is the story of a Woody Allen named Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) who’s trying to write his first novel and break out of his reputation as a hack Hollywood screenwriter. He’s engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams), but his real love is the city of Paris and its rich history. When he discovers that he can hitchhike to the 1920s whenever the clock strikes midnight, does the time traveler’s fiancée stand a chance?
One of the reasons I’m drawn to time travel is the vast number of themes that can be explored with it, and Midnight in Paris has chosen to reflect upon the topic of nostalgia.
Aww, do you guys remember Zoolander?
As the narrative goes, it’s fairly light. Gil takes a trip to the 1920s, he comes back, he desperately misses the 1920s, he goes again. Repeat as needed. There’s no explanation as to how it works, there are a couple of puzzling but nevertheless cute twists, and none of that really matters. The movie just absolutely sweeps you up. Go with it.
They look like they’re having the funnest fun!
One of the film’s major strengths is its pure honesty. There’s no good guy/bad guy dynamic here; several characters have their own opinions on nostalgia, and the movie takes its time pointing out the truths and flaws in each. I went in worrying that I’d have to listen to Owen Wilson incessantly whining about how nobody understands him, but the movie never lets that happen. He’s here to learn something, and so are we.
Hooray for growth and shit.
If I did the performances in this film justice, my article would go on for days. It may be one of the most finely acted films I’ve reviewed so far. It’s as though the decade of the 1920s is its own character, and each actor gets to play it for a few minutes. I think Woody Allen’s direction, paired with a shockingly talented cast list, presents the ’20s as comically stylized without ever becoming a full-on cartoon. In lieu of simply naming all of the actors, here are a few standouts.
Corey Stoll’s Ernest Hemingway deserves his own spin-off movie. With sequels. He’s bold and manly and talks just like he writes. He’s such a commanding presence that I’d be scared to laugh in his face. But I would.
Ha ha heh, no, you’re right, Mr. Hemingway, you could kill me. Easily.
Kathy Bates is a little spitfire as Gertrude Stein. She’s brutally opinionated but never mean, and I wish we got a little more of her in the movie.
“Bitch, I write other people’s autobiographies.”
Adrien Brody is mustachioed brilliance as Salvador Dalí. He’s clearly having a blast, and so are we.
Spoiler alert: Owen Wilson gives him the idea to make a hologram of Alice Cooper.
Of course, there are dozens of other artists in the movie, to the point where it seems like Owen Wilson can’t take a single step without tripping over yet another famous face from the ’20s. Which is why his performance is just as vital. His reaction to being thrown headfirst into all this ridiculousness is what sells it.
Of course, it’s not just Wilson reacting to the magic the whole time. He’s perfectly Woody Allenesque while still being his own unique character. Considering Allen and Wilson are both actors I typically max out on after 30 minutes, this is no small feat, so congratulations on dialing those knobs just right, Owen.
Ooh, dial down the Owen Wilson face a bit there.
Marion Cotillard is wonderfully enticing as Adriana, very nearly the only non-celebrity in the ’20s. She embodies the spirit of both the time period and Gil’s nostalgia, so she is appropriately romantic and mysterious.
Also possibly the most beautiful woman who ever lived?
And then there’s Rachel McAdams, who’s at it again with these silly time travelers. She’s not as smitten on this outing as she was with Eric Bana, so it’s a change of pace, though her betrothed’s flitting about in time is still a source of great stress for her. She’s more high-strung here, the kind of fiancée who seems more concerned with the wedding than the marriage. She’s not a bad person, necessarily, but she’s bad for Gil. It’s a smaller role for McAdams, but well-acted.
“Don’t you go violating the space-time continuum on me, mister!”
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
Oh, yeah, about that… there really aren’t any. Gil just sits on some stairs, the clock chimes midnight, and an old car pulls up. If Gil gets in, it takes him to the 1920s. No lightning, no portals. Just great editing, great set design, great costumes, great acting, great everything.
Doin’ it with some style.
THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
Um, you saw Owen Wilson’s face earlier, right? If that’s not a “my brain just melted from the time travel” moment, I don’t know what is.
Since Owen Wilson and Woody Allen are so hit-or-miss for me, I was skeptical about this movie, but everything about it is fantastic. Just an all-around top-shelf experience. It’s definitely one of the best time travel films I’ve seen and pulls ahead of the pack in the romantic fantasy sub-genre. (I won’t even try to declare a winner when Groundhog Day enters the race.) It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s honest. Quite simply, see it.
LATER THIS WEEK:
About Time (2013)
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.