Imagine, if you will, being able to slip in and out of two time periods as easily as Charlie Sheen flits from vag to vag. This is the very unexpected gift bestowed upon Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), the protagonist in Woody Allen's umpteenth feel good comedy, Midnight in Paris.
Time travel is nothing new in the Allen body of work (Sleeper and The Purple Rose of Cairo, among others), but with Midnight in Paris, the untouchable director wields this particular plot device as a means to show viewers the value of being content with one's own epoch. Because, as Gil eventually learns, personal dissatisfaction is capable of seeping into any era--in spite of being able to run in the same circles as F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Man Ray (Tom Cordier), Luis Buñuel (Adrien de Van), Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody), and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates).
Gil's passion for the city of Paris and general uncertainty about the path his writing career has taken (he churns out scripts for major movie studios and is a self-proclaimed "Hollywood hack") also casts a spotlight on the personality differences between him and his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams). Their jaunt to Paris stems from Inez's mother and father traveling there on business and Inez's according foresight to let them pay for everything.
Little did she know, the trip would reinvigorate Gil's zeal for the Parisian way of life (he often spouts the usual clichés about Paris in the rain and carrying a baguette under his arm), as well as the desire to become a novelist. Inez, conversely, seems to loathe the city, noting with condescension, "Ugh. If I see one more charming boulevard or bistro..." As the trip wears on, Inez grows closer to her former college professor Paul (Michael Sheen, who is much less attractive when speaking with an American accent). Gil, being the vessel through which Woody Allen channels his views through, abhors the pedantic and "pseudo-intellectual" (this insult gets flung often in Allen films, typically toward college professors teaching in any subject) nature of Paul, thereby spurring him on to carry out his midnight excursions into the 1920s on his own.
Though Gil is at first unwittingly shuttled into the sultry, intellectually saturated Paris of the 1920s, he finds the decade to be more and more inviting after encountering some of his literary idols, not to mention an alluring woman--because it would not be a Woody Allen movie without an alluring woman and a man who feels inclined to cheat on his wife or fiancée with her. It is at Gertrude Stein's that Gil meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), Pablo Picasso's mistress du jour. Immediately taken with her beauty, Gil inquires, "So how long have you been dating Picasso?" He pauses to add, "Did I really just say that?"
Adriana then proceeds to tell him that she came to Paris to study fashion design with Coco Chanel and had an affair with Modigliani along the way. With Gil's manuscript left in the hands of Gertrude Stein, he keeps finding a reason to continue his communication with Adriana. However, when she finds out that Gil is engaged, she opts to run off with Hemingway to Mount Kilimanjaro for awhile.
In the meantime, Gil's father-in-law to be has grown suspicious of where Gil goes each night and hires a private detective to follow him. Inez does not share the same concerns as her father, never thinking for even a second that Gil could have the charisma for attracting another woman.
How everything plays out in the end is, suffice it to say, in true Allen form--meaning a perfect blend of tragedian and comedic elements that prove, once again, that just when you're ready to peg Woody Allen as a relic with no relevance in the twenty-first century, he'll make a movie that resoundingly replies, "Fuck you. I've still got it."