Who knew it would take a 75-year-old to make the best movie of the summer (so far)?
Woody Allen's 41st feature is his most engaging effort in years,a whimsical comedy that seamlessly melds moments of dreamy, nostalgic delight —its protagonist, played by Allen surrogate Owen Wilson, is somehow, each midnight, transported back to Paris' 1920s bohemian heyday where he hangs out with Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others — with the filmmaker's longstanding themes of acute self-loathing, romantic longing and the role of the artist in society.
Midnight in Paris is a welcome respite from the barrage of CGI-driven fare that dominates multiplexes this time of year, its witty lightness and bold imagination presented via much subtler, often elegant means. (Of course, when a guy has made more than 40 movies, he should know what he's doing by now.)
That's not to say it doesn't have its flaws: The contemporary characters surrounding Wilson's aspiring novelist, especially his fiance (Rachel McAdams), come off as one-note annoyances. Yet Midnight in Paris is far less schematic than Allen's so-called late-career high points Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Sweet and Low Down and Match Point, and not since Bullets over Broadway has Allen so enjoyably delved into his protagonist's neurotic self-involvement. It even feels more personal, some of which should be attributed to Wilson's sweet, cynic-free take on the material.
My long-running advice that Woody take more time between efforts — he's essentially released a film every year since the early 1970s —remains there for the taking. But if he can still conjure something as funny, entertaining and intellectually probing as Midnight in Paris, who am I to tell the guy what to do?
Elsewhere this week, we have a yet another film adaptation of a children's book series, as well as J.J. Abrams' entertaining, if sometimes overly bombastic, homage to the early films of Steven Spielberg.
JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER — Ben Sombogaart guides this genuinely goofy adaptation of Megan McDonald's children's book about a third grader (Jordana Beatty) who plans the most exciting summer of her brief life. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) —tt stern-enzi (Rated PG.) Grade: C-plus
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS — Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is a love letter to the city at night and the nostalgia for bygone days, but it realizes, even as it celebrates these elements, especially the past, that there is a trap in falling for the romance and old-fashioned romantic notions. Owen Wilson stars as the Woody surrogate. (Read full review here.) (Opens Friday at Esquire Theatre.) —tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: A
SUPER 8 — Give J.J. Abrams credit for stones the size of bowling balls, because he practically gift-wraps the pike on which his science-fiction thriller Super 8 could be skewered. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B