Year of Release: 2011 Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Lea Seydoux, Marion Cotillard, Corey Stoll, and Kathy Bates.
What is the best of times? That is the question Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) grapples with as he vacations in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdmas). For Gil, the answer to that question is Paris in the 1920’s, when Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and Pablo Picasso lived there. Even though he cannot be there, Gil tries his hardest to relate to them by taking in the beauty of Paris and appreciating every minute of the vacation. He dreams of what the city would have been like in the twenties, with his literary and artistic heroes. However, Inez and her no-nonsense parents have no time for Gil’s dreaming. They cannot appreciate the beauty of walking through Paris in the rain or admiring the settings of Monet’s paintings. Naturally, Inez and her parents balk at Gil’s idea of moving to Paris and writing as Hemingway and Fitzgerald did.
Gil is a writer who has had much success writing Hollywood screenplays, but he yearns to write a novel. He has almost completed his only attempt so far, but he is struggling to finish it, as he tries to find inspiration, someone he trusts to critique it, and make it connect to people. Gil has plenty of inspiration for his novel; the protagonist works in a nostalgia shop, which sells items of yesteryear. Gil’s book clearly serves as an expansion of himself, personifying his own current conflict.
The conflict between Gil and Inez over the beauty of Paris carries over into his writing as well. She finds the subject of his novel amusing, but nothing else. Since Gil has been very successful at writing screenplays, Inez cannot fathom why he wants to give that up for novel writing. Screenplay writing is financially secure; novel writing is financially risky. Living in Paris he will be away from publishers and Hollywood, where he has guaranteed work. In her mind, the choice is clear. However, she begrudgingly lets Gil try writing a novel, and she offers assistance as well as she can. She tries to get her ex-boyfriend Paul, (Michael Sheen) whom she considers an honest expert on everything, to look over Gil’s novel for him. Needless to say, Gil does not welcome the suggestion.
Unbeknownst to Gil, he will have an opportunity every midnight in Paris to have his book critiqued, find his last bit of inspiration, and have his wish fulfilled. He will have an opportunity to learn what is would have been like to live in Paris during its “Golden Age.” In order to be truly happy and successful as a writer, Gil has to accept where he is and live in the present. He can learn from the past, for which he is provided a unique opportunity. But ultimately life will be the fullest if he chooses to live in the present. The film shows that Gil was missing part of his life by providing an opportunity for a meaningful relationship that he will never achieve as long as he lives in the past.
Allen captures the nostalgia and beauty of Paris with his opening five minute montage composed of shots of the City of Light, and he maintains the feelings throughout the film. The score contributes to the feeling by using Cole Porter songs and early jazz.
The entire cast is enthusiastic, really bringing their characters to life with their own unique interpretations. The dialogue and exchanges between characters are terse, witty, and most importantly funny. When Gil asks someone he admires to review his novel, the response is: “I’ll hate it. If it’s bad, I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing. If it’s good, I’ll be envious and hate it all the more.”
What Gil finally learns in the end is that in every time period of history, there is good and bad, success and failure. A very funny scene towards the end has another character learn the same lesson. To quote one of my favorite novels, every era is the “best of times and the worst of times.” It all depends on the choices one makes.
Content Advisory: Many references to sexual liaisons, acceptance of non-marital sexuality, and a few instances of profanity. MPAA rating: PG-13
Suggested Audience: Adults
Personal Recommendation: A+