Produced by the Spanish group Mediapro and Allen's US-based Gravier Productions, the film stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard and Michael Sheen. It premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and was released in the United States on May 20, 2011. The film opened to critical acclaim and has commonly been cited as one of Allen's best films in recent years. In 2012, the film won both the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and the Golden Globe Awards for Best Screenplay; and was nominated for three other Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Art Direction.
In 2010, Gil Pender, a successful but creatively unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter, and his fiancée Inez, are in Paris vacationing with Inez's wealthy, conservative parents. Gil is struggling to finish his first novel, centered on a man who works in a nostalgia shop. Inez dismisses his ambition as a romantic daydream, and encourages him to stick with lucrative screenwriting. Gil is considering moving to Paris (which he notes, much to the dismay of his fiancée, is at its most beautiful in the rain). Inez is intent on living in Malibu. By chance, they are joined by Inez's friend Paul, who is described as both pedantic and a pseudo-intellectual, and his wife Carol. Paul speaks with great authority but questionable accuracy on the history and artworks of Paris. Paul contradicts a tour guide at the Musée Rodin, and insists that his knowledge of Rodin's relationships is more accurate than that of the guide. Inez admires him; Gil finds him insufferable.
Gil gets drunk one night when Inez has gone off dancing with Paul and his wife, and becomes lost in the back streets of Paris. At midnight, a 1920s Peugeot Type 176 car draws up beside him, and the passengers, dressed in 1920s clothing, urge him to join them. They go to a party for Jean Cocteau, where he encounters Cole Porter, as well as Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. Gil realizes (but doesn't draw attention to) that he has been transported back to the 1920s, an era he idolizes. Scott and Zelda, along with Cole and his wife, Linda Lee Porter, go to another bar, Chez Bricktop, where he sees Josephine Baker. At a third bar, Gil meets Juan Belmonte and Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway offers to show Gil's novel to Gertrude Stein, and Gil goes to fetch his manuscript from his hotel. However, as soon as he leaves, he finds he has returned to 2010 and that the bar where the 1920s literati were drinking is now a laundromat.
Gil attempts to bring Inez to the past with him the following night, but she becomes impatient and peevishly returns to the hotel. Just after she leaves, the clock strikes midnight and the same car arrives, this time with Hemingway inside. He takes Gil to meet Stein, who agrees to read his novel and introduces him to Pablo Picasso and his lover Adriana. Adriana and Gil are instantly attracted to each other. Stein reads aloud the novel's first line:
Adriana says that she is hooked by these few lines and has always had a longing for the past, especially the Belle Époque of the late 1800s.
Gil spends each of the next few nights in the past. His late-night wanderings annoy Inez, and arouse the suspicion of her father, who hires a private detective to follow him. Gil spends more and more time with Adriana, who leaves Picasso for a brief dalliance with Hemingway. Gil realizes he is falling in love with her, leaving him in conflict. He confides his predicament to Salvador Dalí, Man Ray and Luis Buñuel, but being surrealists they see nothing strange about his claim to have come from the future, finding it to be perfectly normal. They discuss the impossibility of Gil's relationship with Adriana, and each of the artists envisages a different masterpiece inspired by such an unusual romance. Later on Gil suggests a movie plot to Buñuel - that of Buñuel's own 1962 film The Exterminating Angel - and leaves while Buñuel continues to question the plot idea.
In present-day Paris, while Inez shops for expensive furniture, Gil meets Gabrielle, an antique dealer and fellow admirer of the Lost Generation. He buys a Cole Porter gramophone record, and later finds Adriana's diary from the 1920s at a book stall by the Seine, which reveals that she was in love with him. Reading that she dreamed of receiving a gift of earrings from him and then making love to him, Gil attempts to take a pair of Inez's earrings to give to Adriana, but is thwarted by Inez's early return from a trip.
Gil buys earrings for Adriana. Returning to the past, he finds her at a party and tells Adriana, "I sense there are some complicated feelings you have for me." He takes her for a walk, they kiss, and he gives her the earrings. While she's putting them on, a horse-drawn carriage comes down the street, and a richly-dressed couple inside the carriage invite Gil and Adriana for a ride. The carriage transports the passengers to the Belle Époque, an era Adriana considers Paris's Golden Age. Gil and Adriana go first to Maxim's Paris, then to the Moulin Rouge where they meet Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas. Gil asks what they thought the best era was, and the three determine that the greatest era was the Renaissance. The enthralled Adriana is offered a job designing ballet costumes, and proposes to Gil that they stay, but Gil, upon observing that different people long for different "golden ages", has an epiphany, and realizes that despite the allure of nostalgia, any time can eventually become a dull "present", so it's best to embrace your actual present. Adriana however, elects to stay in the 1890s, and they part.
Gil rewrites the first two chapters of his novel and retrieves his draft from Stein, who praises his progress as a writer and tells him that Hemingway likes it, but questions why the main character has not realized that his fiancée (based on Inez) is having an affair with a pedantic character (based on Paul).
Gil returns to 2010 and confronts Inez. She admits to having slept with Paul, but dismisses it as a meaningless fling. Gil breaks up with her and decides to move to Paris. Amid Inez's pique, Gil calmly leaves, after which Inez's father tells her and her mother that he had Gil followed, though the detective has mysteriously disappeared. It is revealed that the detective found himself in the Versailles of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and is last seen fleeing from the palace guards.
Walking by the Seine at midnight, Gil bumps into Gabrielle and, after it starts to rain, he offers to walk her home and they learn that they share the love of Paris in the rain.
The cast includes (in credits order):
This is the second time McAdams and Wilson co-starred as a couple; they did so before in 2005's Wedding Crashers. In comparing the two roles, McAdams describes the one in Midnight in Paris as being far more antagonistic than the role in Wedding Crashers. Allen had high praises for her performance and that of co-star Marion Cotillard. Cotillard was cast as Wilson's other love interest, the charismatic Adriana.
Carla Bruni, singer-songwriter and wife of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, was recruited by Allen for a role as a museum guide. There were false reports that Allen re-filmed Bruni's scenes with Léa Seydoux, but Seydoux rebuffed these rumors revealing she had an entirely separate role in the film. Allen also shot down reports that a scene with Bruni required over 30 takes: "I am appalled. I read these things and I could not believe my eyes...These are not exaggerations, but inventions from scratch. There is absolutely no truth." He continued to describe Bruni as "very professional" and insisted he was pleased with her scenes, stating that "every frame will appear in the film."
Allen employed a reverse approach in writing the screenplay for this film, by building the film's plot around a conceived movie title, 'Midnight in Paris'. The time-travel portions of Allen's storyline are evocative of the Paris of the 1920s described in Ernest Hemingway's memoir A Moveable Feast, with Allen's characters interacting with the likes of Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and uses the phrase "a moveable feast" in two instances, with a copy of the book appearing in one scene. Allen originally wrote the character Gil as an east coast intellectual, but he rethought it when he and casting director Juliet Taylor began considering Owen Wilson for the role. "I thought Owen would be charming and funny but my fear was that he was not so eastern at all in his persona," says Allen. Allen realized that making Gil a Californian would actually make the character richer, so he rewrote the part and submitted it to Wilson, who readily agreed to do it. Allen describes him as "a natural actor". The set-up has certain plot points in common with the British sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart.
Principal photography began in Paris in July 2010. Allen states that the fundamental aesthetic for the camera work was to give the film a warm ambiance. He describes that he likes it (the cinematography), "intensely red, intensely warm, because if you go to a restaurant and you're there with your wife or your girlfriend, and it's got red-flecked wallpaper and turn-of-the-century lights, you both look beautiful. Whereas if you're in a seafood restaurant and the lights are up, everybody looks terrible. So it looks nice. It's very flattering and very lovely." To achieve this he and his cinematographer, Darius Khondji, used primarily warm colors in the film's photography, filmed in flatter weather and employed limited camera movements, in attempts to draw little attention to itself. This is the first Woody Allen film to go through a digital intermediate, instead of being color timed in the traditional photochemical way. According to Allen, its use here is a test to see if he likes it enough to use on his future films.
Allen's directorial style placed more emphasis on the romantic and realistic elements of the film than the fantasy elements. He states that he "was interested only in this romantic tale, and anything that contributed to it that was fairytale was right for me. I didn't want to get into it. I only wanted to get into what bore down on his (Owen Wilson's) relationship with Marion."Locations
The film opens with a 3 1⁄2-minute postcard-view montage of Paris, showing some of the iconic tourist sites. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times describes the montage as a stylistic approach that lasts longer than necessary to simply establish location. According to Turan, "Allen is saying: Pay attention — this is a special place, a place where magic can happen." Midnight in Paris is the first Woody Allen film shot entirely on location in Paris, though both Love and Death (1975) and Everyone Says I Love You (1996) were partially filmed there.
Filming locations include Giverny, John XXIII Square (near Notre Dame), Montmartre, Deyrolle, the Palace of Versailles, the Opéra, Pont Alexandre III, the Sacré-Cœur, the Île de la Cité itself, and streets near the Panthéon.
The film is co-produced by Allen's Gravier Productions and the Catalan company Mediapro and was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics for distribution. It is the fourth film the two companies have co-produced, the others being Sweet and Lowdown, Whatever Works and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.
In promoting the film, Allen was willing to do only a limited amount of publicity at its Cannes Film Festival debut in May. Wilson was already committed to promoting Pixar's Cars 2, which opened in late June, several weeks after Allen's film arrived in cinemas. Due to these challenges and the relatively small ($10 million) budget for promotion, Sony Classics had to perform careful media buying and press relations to promote the film.
The film's poster is a reference to Vincent van Gogh's 1889 painting The Starry Night.
The film made its debut at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday May 11, when it opened the festival as a first-ever screening for both professionals and the public; it was released nationwide in France that same day, Wednesday being the traditional day of change in French cinemas. It went on limited release in six theaters in the United States on May 20 and took $599,003 in the first weekend, spreading to 944 cinemas three weeks later, when it went on wide release.
Midnight in Paris achieved the highest gross of any of Allen's films in North America, before adjusting for inflation. The film earned $56.3 million in North America, overtaking his previous best, Hannah and Her Sisters, at $40 million.
As of 2016, Midnight in Paris is the highest-grossing film directed by Woody Allen, with $151 million worldwide on a $17 million budget.
Midnight in Paris received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 93%, based on 208 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "It may not boast the depth of his classic films, but the sweetly sentimental Midnight in Paris is funny and charming enough to satisfy Woody Allen fans." The film has received Allen's best reviews and score on the site since 1994's Bullets Over Broadway. On Metacritic, the film has a score of 81 out of 100, based on 40 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
The film received some generally positive reviews after its premiere at the 64th Cannes Film Festival. Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Reporter praised Darius Khondji's cinematography and claimed the film "has the concision and snappy pace of Allen's best work".
A. O. Scott of The New York Times commented on Owen Wilson's success at playing the Woody Allen persona. He states that the film is marvelously romantic and credibly blends "whimsy and wisdom". He praised Khondji's cinematography, the supporting cast and remarked that it is a memorable film and that "Mr. Allen has often said that he does not want or expect his own work to survive, but as modest and lighthearted as Midnight in Paris is, it suggests otherwise: Not an ambition toward immortality so much as a willingness to leave something behind—a bit of memorabilia, or art, if you like that word better—that catches the attention and solicits the admiration of lonely wanderers in some future time."
Roger Ebert gave the film 3 1⁄2 stars out of 4. He ended his review thus:
This is Woody Allen's 41st film. He writes his films himself, and directs them with wit and grace. I consider him a treasure of the cinema. Some people take him for granted, although Midnight in Paris reportedly charmed even the jaded veterans of the Cannes press screenings. There is nothing to dislike about it. Either you connect with it or not. I'm wearying of movies that are for "everybody" — which means, nobody in particular. Midnight in Paris is for me, in particular, and that's just fine with moi."
Richard Roeper, an American film critic, gave Midnight in Paris an "A"; referring to it as a "wonderful film" and "one of the best romantic comedies in recent years". He commented that the actors are uniformly brilliant and praised the film's use of witty one-liners.
In The Huffington Post, Rob Kirkpatrick said the film represented a return to form for the director ("it's as if Woody has rediscovered Woody") and called Midnight in Paris "a surprising film that casts a spell over us and reminds us of the magical properties of cinema, and especially of Woody Allen's cinema."
Midnight in Paris has been compared to Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), in that the functioning of the magical realism therein is never explained. David Edelstein, New York, commended that approach, stating that it eliminates, "the sci-fi wheels and pulleys that tend to suck up so much screen time in time-travel movies." He goes on to applaud the film stating that, "this supernatural comedy isn't just Allen's best film in more than a decade; it's the only one that manages to rise above its tidy parable structure and be easy, graceful, and glancingly funny, as if buoyed by its befuddled hero's enchantment."
Peter Johnson of PopCitizen felt that the film's nature as a "period piece" was far superior to its comedic components, which he referred to as lacking. "While the period settings of Midnight in Paris are almost worth seeing the film . . . it hardly qualifies as a moral compass to those lost in a nostalgic revelry," he asserts.
Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal acknowledged the cast and the look of the film and, despite some familiarities with the film's conflict, praised Allen's work on the film. He wrote, "For the filmmaker who brought these intertwined universes into being, the film represents new energy in a remarkable career.".
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, giving the film 3 out of 5 stars, described it as "an amiable amuse-bouche" and "sporadically entertaining, light, shallow, self-plagiarising." He goes on to add that it's "a romantic fantasy adventure to be compared with the vastly superior ideas of his comparative youth, such as the 1985 movie The Purple Rose of Cairo." In October 2013, the film was voted by the Guardian readers as the ninth best film directed by Woody Allen.
More scathing is Richard Corliss of Time, who describes the film as "pure Woody Allen. Which is not to say great or even good Woody, but a distillation of the filmmaker's passions and crotchets, and of his tendency to pass draconian judgment on characters the audience is not supposed to like. . . . his Midnight strikes not sublime chimes but the clangor of snap judgments and frayed fantasy."
Quentin Tarantino named Midnight in Paris as his favorite film of 2011.
The film was well received in France. The website Allocine (Hello Cinema) gave it 4.2 out of 5 stars based on a sample of twenty reviews. Ten of the reviews gave it a full five stars, including Le Figaro, which praised the film's evocation of its themes and said "one leaves the screening with a smile on one's lips".
The William Faulkner estate later filed a lawsuit against Sony Pictures Classics for the film's bit of dialogue, "The past is not dead. Actually, it's not even past," a paraphrasing of an often-quoted line from Faulkner's 1950 book Requiem for a Nun ("The past is never dead. It's not even past."), claiming that the paraphrasing was an unlicensed use of the estate. Faulkner is directly credited in the dialogue when Gil claims to have met the writer at a dinner party (though Faulkner is never physically portrayed in the film). Julie Ahrens of the Fair Use Project at the Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society was quoted as saying in response to the charge, "The idea that one person can control the use of those particular words seems ridiculous to me. Any kind of literary allusion is ordinarily celebrated. This seems to squarely fall in that tradition." Sony's response stated that they consider the action "a frivolous lawsuit". In July 2013, a federal judge in Mississippi dismissed the lawsuit on fair use grounds.
The soundtrack was released on December 9, 2011, and released on Blu-ray and DVD on December 20, 2011.