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A Woody Allen movie rated G? Yes, and maybe only in B.C. where I saw it in Vancouver yesterday. If you’re offering charming characters, lively performance from some talented actors, Woody Allen’s own clever screenplay inundated with witty dialogues, and have him direct in the backdrop of dreamlike Paris, the result is pure delight. You don’t need too much of anything extra, hence the MPAA PG-13 rating. And maybe because of that, clean and crisp, this is one of the Woody Allen movies I enjoy most for some years. And yes, this is the one with French first lady Carla Bruni in it, where Allen has to direct under the watchful eyes of the French President and his security personnel.

Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) are engaged to be married. They take a trip to Paris with Inez’s parents John (Kurt Fuller) and Helen (Mimi Kennedy) for John’s business merger. While Gil and Inez first appear to be a romantic pair, we soon find them to be incompatible. Gil is an underachieved screenwriter from California, aiming to write his first novel. His dream of Paris is one of the golden age, nostalgically inhabited by the modernists, the artists and literati of the 1920’s.

However, his fiancé Inez fails to see his aspiration or potential, and the imagination that the cultural city can unleash in him. Rather, she falls for their American friend Paul (Michael Sheen), the intellectual snob whose self-importance drives him to snub Gil and even counter their museum guide (Carla Bruni) in the accuracy of her information. But Gil is more preoccupied with his midnight encounters, which ultimately transform him and change their individual paths. These experiences after midnight are just wonderful surprises for Gil, and me. Without giving too much of a spoiler, let’s just say it’s Woody Allen’s version of ‘Back to the Future’.

When I first saw the trailer, I had reservation about Owen Wilson being the leading man in a Woody Allen movie set in Paris. Would that be a miscast? Well, I’m proven wrong the moment he appears on screen. Wilson embodies the unassuming and delusional Gil, screenwriter from Pasadena, CA. He casts all of his previous film roles out of my mind and replaces with only this one of the moment, offering a performance that is impressively convincing. He leads a cast of wonderful actors, including the charming Marion Cotillard, veteran Kathy Bates, the versatile Michael Sheen, and a very dramatic Adrien Brody. And I won’t give away who is supposed to be who, I’ll leave that joy of discovery for you.

This is a movie for art and literature lovers, ideal for book bloggers and discussion groups. Allen has cleverly juxtaposed the modernists in the turn of the 20th century with their contemporary admirer Gil. We encounter all these iconic figures in the film: Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, T.S. Eliot and more… it’s so much fun to hear allusion to their works, and some of them utter lines that are their own but in the style and wit of Woody Allen’s.

What makes the movie gratifying of course is not just the visuals, people and places, but how the story leads. The twist towards the end is the pivotal revelation for Gil. While one can bask in nostalgia, one needs to embrace the present in order to fully live. As I watched the movie, I wanted to read the script and capture Allen’s ingenuity. As I left the theatre, I wanted to see it again.

~~~1/2 Ripples

To read my review of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast CLICK HERE.

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