First Night: Midnight In Paris, Cannes International Film Festival

Every last cliché about Paris, courtesy of Woody
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The Independent Culture

Woody Allen's latest film is a pleasant, if very undercharged affair, which unashamedly basks in every last cliché about Paris as a city of artists, intellectuals, gourmands and lovers.

Like many of the director's recent European-set movies, it teeters on the brink of whimsy throughout. Characterisation is wafer-thin. Allen's musings on memory, mortality and the roots of creativity are hardly profound either. On the upside, it's engagingly performed and has enough of Allen's trademark one-liners to keep the chuckles flowing.

Carla Bruni, in a small role as a museum guide in which she debates the merits of Rodin with Michael Sheen's obnoxious American academic, Paul, is not quite as wooden as advance publicity had suggested.

As in last year's You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, the main character is a frustrated American writer. Gil (Owen Wilson) writes Hollywood movies for money but is working on a novel. He is on holiday in Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her arch-Republican parents.

Wilson plays his character in a manner reminiscent of Allen's own screen appearances. He has the angst, the pauses, the plaintive whine of a voice that we all know from Allen's performances as neurotic New Yorkers – and gives the film what little emotional depth it has.

Early on we are treated to one-upmanship and verbal jousting between Gil and Paul, who clearly has eyes for Gil's fiancée. Their skirmishes take place in restaurants, the gardens of Versailles and in museums, but there is a sense they are going through the motions.

Matters improve when the bell chimes for midnight and Gil is magically whisked back to the Paris of the 1920s. Here, he encounters Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, T S Eliot, Cole Porter and Luis Buñuel. He asks Gertrude Stein (splendidly played by Kathy Bates) to read the manuscript of his novel and becomes increasingly besotted with a beautiful young woman (Marion Cotillard) who has seemingly slept with every artist in town.

As Allen continues his epic film-making journey round Europe (his next movie is reportedly set in Rome), he isn't enhancing his reputation or stretching himself. Midnight In Paris isn't anywhere near his best but Cannes was still ready to indulge him.