This movie had a lot to live up to for me. Prior to this, I’d seen only two Woody Allen films. I hated one (Match Point) and loved the other (Annie Hall). But then all the reviews gushed about this movie, so my expectations were about as high as the Eiffel Tower. How did it live up? Well, first let’s take a look at the story. We meet Gil (Owen Wilson), and American screenwriter who is trying to become a novelist. He’s vacationing in Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). He’s also stuck having to travel around with Inez’s friend, the pedantic Paul (Michael Sheen). But one night, Gil gets into an old-time cab and is transported to the 1920s version of Paris, where he meets a vast amount of famous people, including but not limited to F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody). But he also meets Picasso’s mistress, a woman named Adriana (Marion Cotillard), with whom he becomes rather smitten.
Despite the amazing reviews, despite the director, despite everything… I have one question to ask: Why didn’t anybody tell me I’d love this movie so much? I know you tried, but… really? You could have tried harder. This is like a love letter to… everything. Paris. Writing. Art. Love itself. As a novelist and an English teacher, I was entangled in this movie by the stuff about writing and with all the authors alone. I’ve never been a huge fan of American Lit, but I did have to study it, so this was a lot of fun. The scene where Gil is talking to Hemingway in the cab is fantastic, as Hemingway is talking in the style he writes–with a lot of polysyndeton and run-ons.
The film just has a magical feel to it, a charm that resonates through every scene. I don’t think there was one moment when I wasn’t smiling. Even the scenes with Rachel McAdams, who plays a terrible human being (and in the worst way… she doesn’t know she’s a b-word and thinks she’s being OK). Perhaps that had to do with how likable Owen Wilson was in the film. You just wanted to root for the guy and wanted only the best for him. And Michael Sheen played just one of those guys you want to punch. His whole character reminded me of the theater scene in Annie Hall, where Woody Allen makes an aside to the camera after getting terribly annoyed with the guy behind him in line.
As for the past-folks, everyone was phenomenal, as well. Alison Pill stole every scene she was in as Zelda Fitzgerald, though she’s really not in it that much. Of course, Corey Stoll’s Hemingway was fantastic, and Marion Cotillard was lovely as Adriana. My favorite, though, had to be Adrien Brody as Dali. His obsession with rhinoceroses was hilarious. It’s just… everybody was so damn good.
I honestly can’t think of anything bad to say about it. The themes were strong. The message was clear. And even though everything might have been slightly predictable (story-wise), it was way too much fun to care. If I could find anything (minor spoilers), it’s that it took me a minute when, near the end of the second act, there was another time jump. It wasn’t until the scene was almost over that I got it, but if I would have had a little stronger focus at that time, I think it was clear enough. (End minor spoilers). I say definitely check it out. The best thing I could say about it is that it’s just… charming.
(P.S. If you would like a less enthusiastic review, or at least one that considers the perspective of “well… what if I DON’T know much, if anything, about these famous people?” check out Daniel’s review from earlier this year.)