In Midnight in Paris, the hero slips back in time to an era he reveres as a golden age, and there are moments when the film itself weaves a similar spell on the viewer.
If you're a Woody Allen fan, it can whisk you back to the period when Allen was a writer-director to cherish, and he hadn't made any of the half-hearted farragos we've been watching through our fingers for the past decade or so.
Its hero is a screenwriter (Owen Wilson) who's on holiday in Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams). While she sees the sights with an oily friend (Michael Sheen), Wilson is nagged by the feeling that he's wasting his life churning out blockbusters in Beverly Hills, and that he should be polishing his novel in a Left Bank garret instead. (Only in a Woody Allen film would a man be dissatisfied by having a blooming Hollywood career and McAdams on his arm.) And then, one evening after a wine-tasting, he totters along a boulevard and into the roaring Twenties. To his stupefied delight, he finds himself drinking champagne with F Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and a flirtatious beauty (Marion Cotillard) who's being fought over by Picasso and Hemingway. Best of all, he can make the same trip through time every night.
The Woody Allen who made The Purple Rose of Cairo might have looked beneath the glittering surface of the Jazz Age, but Midnight in Paris doesn't present the Twenties as anything other than a writer's paradise. It's an airy, creamy profiterole of a film – and that could be why it's done better box office in the United States than any of Allen's previous, more cynical work.
As frivolous as it is, the glowing cinematography, the postcard settings and the rhapsodic dialogue all convey the director's swooning adoration of Paris with a force that's hard to resist. But the masterstroke is the casting of Owen Wilson. As a tall, blond, laid-back Texan, he's hardly the obvious Allen surrogate, and yet he's charming and funny, and he has no trouble embodying the film's starry-eyed romanticism. When Wilson realises that he's in the presence of Cole Porter, his face lights up as if he can't quite believe it, but he's eager to give in to the fantasy. By the end of the film, you might know how he feels.
Perfect Sense features another of the pandemics which the movies have been pummelling us with lately, but it's less an apocalyptic disaster movie than an indie drama about two people learning to accept true love. It stars Ewan McGregor as a womanising chef in a Glasgow restaurant, and Eva Green as an epidemiologist, a job which consists largely of announcing that she's an epidemiologist. Just as they find each other, the world's populace starts losing its senses, one by one. At first their sense of smell fades away. And then, once people get used to the idea that their noses don't do much except give their specs somewhere to rest, they start to lose their sense of taste, too. It's bad news for a chef, but not as bad as the fear that the disease hasn't finished with the human race yet.
Despite its meagre budget, Perfect Sense has some arresting scenes of social collapse, but the looting and the burnt-out buses are secondary to the script's musings on the ways we soldier on in a crisis. It's a melancholy fable that isn't afraid of being pretentious – and that's often what it is – as long as it can be haunting and lyrical, too. And it could have audiences savouring the tang of their popcorn like never before.
Nicholas Barber buys Morgan Spurlock's comic-documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
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