Woody Allen makes a return to form with this sumptuous tale of identity crisis in Paris, Andrew Donovan writes.

With TV shows like Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire etc, life looks more desirable in New York in the 60’s or England in the 1910’s than it does now.

These time periods all seem to possess an order, a way of doing things; when a man was a man and a woman was a woman.

Part of the reason we buy into this escapism is because our present seems so undesirable. 

The phenomenon is called ‘golden age thinking’ and it is what Owen Wilson suffers from throughout the film. 

Wilson plays Gill Pender, a successful hollywood screenwriter who is engaged to Rachel McAdams' character, Inez. 

At the start of the film they are both tagging along on her father’s business trip to Paris; mixing fine dining, sight-seeing and shopping: Hardly sounds like much escapism is needed. 

But you soon realise that the family he is marrying into are morons; the father a right wing conservative, played by Kurt Fuller of Wayne’s World fame, and the mother a snob, played by Mimi Kennedy.

And Wilson doesn’t really want to be a screenwriter, in his own words he wants to write “serious literature,” like his heros.
 

More obnoxious Americans turn up as the film progresses and you are left chuckling away at their ignorance as they pronounce sorbonne ‘sore-bone’ and while away their time in hotel restaurants. 

Only Wilson truly appreciates the beauty and the history of the city around him as he seeks to retrace the steps of Hemingway, Joyce, Monet et al. 

For him, Paris in the rain in the 20’s was the time period he wanted to live in. 

Baudelaire coined the term ‘flaneur’ for a person “who walks the city in order to experience it.” 

This is what Wilson does one evening to avoid going dancing. 

These midnight strolls open up a completely hidden side of Paris and as Wilson spends night after night being a flaneur, he has to decide whether he really wants to go back to California, back to the day job, back to a marriage. 

The characters he meets on his midnight strolls are extraordinary; Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody all contribute to making this film what it is: a truly sweet, life-affirming, hilarious, dare I say it, romantic comedy.

4/5 stars