Gil is a successful Hollywood screenwriter. Which is pretty good, right? I mean, not everyone can make a living in the movie biz. And it's a pretty decent living at that. But … for him it's an empty accomplishment. What he really wants is to be a successful writer. Not a Hollywood hack. And that's what his trip to Paris in the company of his fiancée is really all about.
Sure, sure, Inez and her parents are visiting the City of Light as a vacation/shopping trip before the wedding. And that's fine. But for Gil it's about connecting with the soul of this ancient place. He wants to dig into the rich artistic past of the city. After all, greats like Hemingway and Fitzgerald walked these same beautiful streets. If only he could see, hear, feel the fabulous Paris that they knew. Surely that would help him fix the holes in his latest stab at a novel.
All he's feeling when he gets there, though, is his soon-to-be-wife's impatience with all of his creative angst. Not to mention his soon-to-be-in-laws' disappointment over their daughter's poor choice. (Sigh.) The whole trip feels like it's going to be a bust.
But then, on a late-night walk down a quaint Paris street, a clock tower strikes midnight. A vintage Peugeot putters up. A gaggle of French partiers in the backseat beckon Gil to join in. And whoosh, the would-be novelist is transported back to a Paris of days gone by. A Paris of flappers, all-night parties and oh so many classic writers. It's a Paris of the '20s, packed to the brim with dreams—and wouldn't you know it, it's home to a beguiling girl, too.
Gil learns that every generation tends to look longingly to the past as a "golden age." And he realizes he should find richness in his life in the present rather than long for it in a time gone by. He also comes to understand that sacrificing a comfortable situation and working toward a risky but potentially rewarding life goal can sometimes be the wisest choice.
It's never explained how a magical antique car takes Gil into the past every night at midnight.
In Paris of the present and past, sexual encounters are free and easy. We never see anyone sleeping around, but several characters casually talk about who's bunking with whom. Gil's romantic focus in the '20s, Adriana, talks of her numerous love affairs with renowned artists, including Pablo Picasso. In the present, Inez admits to having had several nights of sex with an attractive man while Gil was off on his nightly strolls. And she expects Gil, with whom she also shares her bed, to "get over it" and let everything get back to normal.
Gil, for his part, reports, "I like really cheap sex." Earnest Hemingway talks to him of how making "really good love" to a woman can cause him to lose his fear of death for a short while. Cole Porter's "Let's Fall in Love" does a little more than hint at sex with its famous "do it" lines.
Several women, including Inez, wear low-cut tops. Inez shows up one time wrapped in only a towel. (Gil pulls her down on his lap.) She and Gil kiss while lying together on their hotel bed. Gil kisses Adriana. While out walking, Gil and Adriana pass a number of prostitutes. (We see leg and garters.) Female dancers at the Folies Bergère kick up their legs to expose petticoats and bloomers. A nude statue and painting get screen time.
While attempting to follow Gil into the past, a private eye winds up back at the French king's court somewhere in the 1800s and is chased by armed guards. We hear of a soldier losing his hand to a grenade.
Crude or Profane Language
A small handful of the profanity "h‑‑‑," along with a "d‑‑n." About a half dozen misuses of God's and Jesus' names.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Alcohol is linked to elevated levels of sexual desire … and decreased levels of sexual performance. Zelda Fitzgerald tells Gil, "I'll never be a great lyric writer; my talent lies in drinking." Gil, Inez, her parents and their friends drink at nearly every gathering. Gil is a bit upset at a wine tasting and starts slugging back the stuff two glasses at a time. In the 1920s, everybody tends to gravitate toward mixed drinks, shots and champagne. They party-hop like there's no tomorrow.
People in both time periods smoke cigarettes. And when Gil tells Inez that he was mysteriously transported to the 1920s, she asks him, "What have you been smoking?" Gil encounters a stressed out Zelda and gives her a valium.
Other Negative Elements
Gil and his almost in-laws trade barbs about their opposing political viewpoints; he calls their conservatism insane.
Over the years, Woody Allen fans have gotten used to the writer/director's familiar and often charming moviemaking routine of combining interesting locales and creative situations with a typically nebbish leading character who intellectually shadowboxes with his own insecurities and neuroses. Paris is the location this time. A little time-traveling sleight of hand adds romance. And a frustrated writer named Gil serves as the mollycoddle.
The resulting film is clever, relaxed and warmly nostalgic. In fact, that sense of backward yearning is what Midnight in Paris is all about. The flick joyfully takes us to the twenties for a cinematic game of "name that classic celebrity" as we walk amidst a cavalcade of literary and artistic icons. And then it gently persuades us that living our lives richly in the present is far better than longing for the past, no matter how rosy it might seem.
Unfortunately, Allen's movie also falls victim to a bit of its own nostalgic whitewash. While it leads up to that live-for-today lesson, it freely idolizes the "anything goes" decadence of a 1920s Lost Generation—a world steeped in alcohol, drugs and casual bed hopping. The fact that so many of the era's creative geniuses had their lives crumpled by alcoholism or addiction of one type or another never really enters into the discussion. Here it's all just part of the rush, the experience, the fanciful fun.