|Cotillard and Wilson as Adriana and Gil along the Seine|
Gil Pender (Owen Wilson doing his best Woody Allen - under-confident, romantically inclined, easily swayed by a pretty face), a successful Hollywood screenwriter, wanders the streets of Paris. He is visiting with his fiancee, a brittle, spoiled darling named Inez (the beautiful but acidic Rachel McAdams) and her disapproving, conservative parents. Inez is in thrall to her parents' expensive lifestyle and narrow-minded views.
Unhappy, dissatisfied with his life, he is accosted by the occupants of an antique car at the stroke of midnight on the streets of Paris. The mysterious strangers are elegantly dressed and warmly inviting. And so it begins ... a beautiful fairytale for the literary-minded. Gil has a romantic attachment to the writers of the Lost Generation and sees that he has somehow, magically, traveled back to the1920s to be amongst the writers and artists whom he most admires.
Gil meets Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Cole Porter, Josephine Baker and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll). Hemingway promises to show Gil's novel to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), his mentor, but when he returns to his hotel to retrieve his manuscript he realizes with disappointment that he has now returned to the present - to his disapproving fiancee who it appears has fallen for a pretentious, lecherous-minded friend.
The next night Gil attempts to bring his fiancee Inez to the same location to travel back in time with him. They wait futilely and Inez leaves in a pique. Here is where I begin to be dissatisfied with this film: why must the main protagonist's girl always be a raving b- in Allen's films? There is always one perfect, unattainable girl and most of the rest are simply harpies.
Gil, here, as always, the stand-in for earlier cinematic incarnations of Allen, is the put upon, slightly abused loser who puts up with insults and insensitivity about his more refined artistic temperament. Aren't you getting a bit long in the tooth to be playing that role Woody and/or placing your cinematic doppelganger in your stead?
Again, miraculously, at midnight after Inez leaves, the car returns this time with Hemingway who takes Gil to meet Gertrude Stein, who agrees to read his novel. There he also meets Pablo Picasso and Picasso's mistress the enchanting Adriana (Marion Cotillard). There is chemistry and the potential for fireworks.
He has fallen for Adriana and while back in the present Gil soon discovers Adriana's diary from the 1920s in a book stall on the Seine manned by a lovely, enigmatic girl named Gabrielle. He discovers that Adriana was in love with him and dreamt of receiving a gift of earrings from him. He returns to the past and professes his love for Adriana bearing the earrings (that he had initially tried to steal from Inez without success).
In a twist on Gil's own fantasy life, Adriana and Gil find themselves in 1890s Belle Époque, an era that Adriana considers her Golden Age of Paris. At the Moulin Rouge they meet a trio of artists - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas - who claim that, to them, the greatest era was the Renaissance period.
Gil returns to the present, realizing that each age pines for another era that they perceive to be more romantic, more exciting. Adriana pines for la Belle Epoque as Gil does for the Paris of the 1920s. He realizes something else: that Inez is having an affair and decides to leave her but not Paris. This being a Woody Allen film, the last scene is of Gil walking through Paris at night and re-encountering the lovely bookseller Gabrielle in the rain.
I loved the concept of the film but struggled to like the literary characters and I am too enamored of the literary personages referenced to accept most actors in these roles (this is my problem not Allen's). I have a fixed image of Fitzgerald (charismatic, suave) and Zelda (exciting, gorgeous) and Hemingway (not the macho buffoon that he is often portrayed as). While thrilled with the premise, the actual execution disappointed me. I seem to be in the minority here based on the accolades and academy nominations that Allen has received. His film is being lauded as a return, somewhat, to the great Woody Allen of yesteryear. The film is undeniably visually beautiful and the characters are artfully portrayed but perhaps I have seen this premise (and these characters) one too many times.