| Writer-director Woody Allen, 75, is back in top form with the most romantic movie of the year. This time-travel fantasy brings back memories of “Somewhere in Time.” Allen breaks out of a mini-slump with his 41st film in the past 45 years. He continues his European tour of great cities with the City of Light following in the footsteps of London (“Match Point”) and Barcelona (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”).
The opening is full of famous landmarks that tourists most often visit. Paris has never looked better on camera thanks to the outstanding cinematography of Darius Khondji, director of photography.
This trip down memory lane begins with Gil Pender (Owen Wilson from “Wedding Crashers”) accompanying his fetching blonde fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams from “The Notebook”), and her wealthy parents, John and Helen (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy), on a vacation in the springtime. John is there on business having acquired a new venture through a corporate merger. Inez and her mother are primarily interested in shopping to occupy their time. Gil, a Hollywood hack screenwriter, is looking for inspiration to incorporate into his novel about the owner of a nostalgia shop.
They run into pseudo-intellectual Paul Bates (Michael Sheen from “Frost/Nixon” and “The Queen”) and his wife, Carol (Nina Arianda). Paul is there to give a lecture at the Sorbonne. Inez had a huge crush on Paul back in college. Paul comes across as a know-it-all pedant. On an outing to the Palace at Versailles, Paul prefaces every statement with “if I am not mistaken.” The irony being that his explanations are generally incorrect.
Another day trip takes them to the Rodin Museum where their tour guide is played by Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the current first lady of France.
Gil develops an extreme dislike of Paul. When Paul and Carol ask them to go dancing one evening after a wine tasting event, Inez gladly accepts while Gil decides to do his own thing. In a slightly tipsy state, he goes for a walk and gets lost. As a church bell tolls midnight, a vintage Peugeot pulls up and the revelers aboard invite him to get in. The antique roadster serves as a magic portal taking Gil back to Paris of the 1920s, where he meets an amazing who’s who of famous authors, musicians and painters.
Gil becomes smitten by the extremely alluring Adriana (Marion Cotillard from “La Vie en Rose” and “Inception”), a self-described “art groupie.” They walk around Paris and their witty banter is reminiscent of “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.”
Gil returns several nights in a row, and John eventually hires a detective to follow him. When Gil tells Inez about his nocturnal activities, she thinks he was just dreaming about his literary idols. Later, she blames a brain tumor for his perplexing predicament.
This is one of Allen’s best original screenplays and deserves consideration for an Oscar. The movie glorifies the good old days and how people yearn for the past to cope with the realities of a painful present.
This romantic comedy deserved the honor of being chosen for the opening night premiere at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
The supporting cast includes Academy Award winners Kathy Bates (“Misery”) and Adrien Brody (“The Pianist”). The snappy pace and tight editing leave you wanting more as the movie zips by in 94 minutes of delightful escapism. The unbeatable soundtrack features some of Cole Porter’s most memorable songs. The fashionable period and contemporary designer costumes and lavishly appointed interiors are also worthy of year-end awards recognition.
Wilson embodies the familiar insecure and neurotic Allen persona when it comes to matters of the heart. The clever wordplay expressing passionate feelings and the omnipresent fear of death rings true, fitting the well-established Allen oeuvre. Cotillard is an enchanting goddess who represents the essence of love incarnate. MacAdams has the pushy materialistic female personality down to a T.
This comedic masterpiece by one of America’s legendary filmmaking geniuses is a fitting companion to “Paris, Je T’Aime” and like a fine wine should be savored by Allen’s legion of loyal cinephiles.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"