A skim down the stellar credits of Midnight In Paris raises concerns of a repeat offence, but worry not. Allen has in fact written and directed one of the most charming, witty and heartwarming films of his career.
Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a Hollywood hack trying to finish a novel, who is holidaying in Paris with his unaffectionate fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams). Also along for the ride are Inez's parents (Mimi Kennedy and a hilarious Kurt Fuller) and Inez's smarmy, bearded know-it-all friend Paul (Michael Sheen).
Gil is a hopeless nostalgic, attracted to Paris in the rain. He's especially drawn to the Paris of the 1920s, where the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald roamed the bars. Inez, on the other hand, is more interested in getting wed and getting back to Malibu to spend spend spend - well, either that or going out dancing with Paul.
On a drunken wander one evening, Gil flops on a Paris pavement as the clock strikes midnight. He then spots an old-fashion taxi, filled with smartly-dressed types beckoning him in. It'd spoil things to say too much about where things go from there, but it's fair to say any Brits who have watched Nick Lyndhurst vehicle Goodnight Sweetheart may enjoy a wry smile.
As Gil's nightly fantasy takes flight, a host of supporting actors sprinkle a touch more magic over the film. Allison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates and especially Corey Stoll and Adrien Brody adeptly walk the giggly tightrope between being too silly and too smart for their own good. The knockout entrance of muse Adriana (Marion Cotillard) in Gil's life gives the movie some real heart.
Paris is another star of the movie, and sniffy criticisms of the film being a tourist's view of the city compared to Allen's New York works somewhat miss the point. As LP Hartley appropriately noted, "the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there". The film's opening sequence of all the obvious Paris landmarks (from the Moulin Rouge and Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower) intentionally underlines Gil's sense of being a temporal outsider.
In exploring the idea of an infinitely regressive nostalgia for a golden age, it's possible that Allen is having a smirk at those who constantly hark back to his own older work. But, even if that's the case, there's an honesty and sweetness which prevents Gil's conclusions from seeming trite or self-indulgent.
Given his back catalogue, the desire to compare Allen's work to his past glories and failures is naturally overwhelming, but the best thing you can say about Midnight In Paris is that it demands to be watched, and loved, entirely on its own terms.