In “Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen returns to the 1920s and 1930s, and yet the most notable thing about the movie is that the details of the era are so generic and obvious. The period setting, period clothes and period music aren’t the oddities to pay attention to in this film. Allen’s characters remind me of the ones he played in “Zelig,” only his roles are at least more complex and idiosyncratic. Allen plays writer Owen Milgrim (there are no references to contemporary literary figures, only to Salinger, Hemingway and Fitzgerald).
Owen is a kind of role model for Mattie Flanders (Adrien Brody), a Hollywood gadfly who gets swept up in Owen’s adventures and falls madly in love with him. Mattie’s name is the most inspired touch in the story, a nickname that makes Owen’s character come across as a simpleton. The others are immaculately cast, too, from the dashingly stiffly handsome Vincent Cassel as Owen’s traveling companion (and rumored love interest) to Mia Farrow and Jean Reno as Owen’s big-city magazine publishers and Rachel McAdams as a con-artist type. (The Los Angeles scenery is predictably lush.)
There are other obvious casting choices in the movie, like Marion Cotillard as Owen’s wife and Owen’s publisher. And some of the supporting characters have names that seem to read best in the wrong order. (The playwright Sallet’s name, for example, sounds and looks terrible in this context.) Even so, what gets lost amid the star casting and the irrelevance of the period (and the fashion, fashion and more fashion) is a more than passable love story and a rueful view of the way some of the gossipy old men in Paris indulged in their “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”