This fantasy comedy is an entrancing trip down a culture-laden, memory lane, led by a befuddled and indecisive American screenwriter-turned-novelist played by Owen Wilson. In it, Gil discovers an alternate Paris that magically exists once the clock strikes 12—a Paris set in the 20s, the age the aspiring novelist has long wished he could've flourished in.
As a result of his fortuitous time travel, he is able to meet the dashing F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston from Thor) and his energetic and scatter-brained wife Zelda (Alison Pill from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), listen to Cole Porter (Yves Heck) live, get writing advice from Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll from Salt), have his book critiqued by Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates from "Harry's Law"), bear witness to a distraught Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) defending one of his abstract portraits, and have a drink with Director Luis Buñuel (Adrien de Van) and painter Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody). For lovers of literature and admirers of art, it's a dream come true: rubbing elbows with your idols and legendary souls.
The opportunity for this immersion arose from Gil's desire to live in the golden age of art in all its forms so that he, as a writer (and a person), could thrive. He felt like he was drowning in the juvenile and easily forgettable prose of modern Hollywood screenwriting, and secretly wished he could settle down in Paris instead of Malibu, like his nagging, American fiancee (Rachel McAdams) wanted him to. This journey to this enlightened time period allowed him to gain perspective. He was soon able to see that his fiancee was all wrong for him, that she was having an emotional affair with one of those pompous, condescending elitists (Michael Sheen from Twilight) who lectured instead of conversed because he believed he'd been everywhere and seen everything—and that while the 20s may seem far more appealing than his current time period, every decade's inhabitants feel that way about some era.
He learned that last lesson from Adriana (Marion Cotillard), Picasso's latest muse. She wished to exist in the 1890s, to be the muse of Degas (Francois Rostain) and his associates, who would've preferred the Renaissance. Stein gave him great advice. She said that what his story was lacking was a resolution. He had presented several issues and obstacles, but without a resolution to them, it was incomplete. And so he decided that his nostalgia shop owner character would evolve into a man more appreciative of his present and less obsessed with what was—and more importantly what could've been. Gil knew that, much like his character, he needed to live in the present and stop running from his problems—whether they were romantic or professional.
Director Woody Allen's set-up for this tale is your average be-careful-what-you-wish-for slash live-in-the-moment construction—something that if executed by anyone else would've been digitally shelved in the small indie section of Netflix. But with the name to back him he was able to score a stellar cast who truly brought their characters to life. My favorites were Brody's Dalí and Pill's Zelda—probably because they were wily and peculiar, and they seemed to be wearing their character's skin nice and snug.
My only real problem with the film is that it started with one issue (a lack of confidence in his writing) and ended resolving a different issue (his undercutting, distant wife). I'm glad he eventually sees the light, but whatever happened to the book? Nonetheless, the film can be called the most interesting history lesson ever put to celluloid. It even had a C+ Art History student like me wishing I could be in Paris at midnight.