On surface, this is a frothy comedy about petit-bourgeois people travelling in Paris; Wilson’s Gil (the most sympathetic of the lot, displaying simplistic human sentiment) tries to find inspiration for his writing, fleeing away from the clutches of his class-climbing fiancée (Rachel McAdams), her snobbish parents and their elitist, know-it-all, crushingly intellectual friend (Michael Sheen, having a ball). Thank goodness, then, it doesn’t descend down to travel porn. There is genuine purpose for Allen’s screenplay here. Once we get past through that familiar relationship dramedy, the film is at its best when his main protagonist unconsciously travels back to the roaring 20’s Paris where he meets icons of the jazz age, a roll-call of icons worshipped by creative students everywhere – Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitgerald, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Luis Buñuel. This time-travel is rendered seamlessly, left enigmatically unexplained, yet fitting to Gil’s yearning passion for the past glory of life. When Gil drags his wife and try to show her he has indeed travelled back to the 20’s the next evening, he is met with his wife’s nonchalant couldn’t-care-less attitude, which movingly sums up an writer’s lone-wolf existence. So flees his horridly sad present and escapes to the past, meeting Picasso’s ex-mistress Adrianna (a luminous Marion Cotillard), only to realise that she also longs for something in the recurrent past, the Belle Époch age, the time of Toulouse-Lautrec. Allen’s thesis is that we, creative types, all long something from the past that those who are very much buried in it hinders themselves from living their own present, when that Golden Age could be our very own.
The best Woody Allen film in a very long time. This is a heartfelt, charmingly poignant, love-letter to the City of Lights and nostalgia by an auteur who hasn’t lost his joie de vivre.