Glimpses of Allen’s former glory in Midnight in Paris

Film of the week: Woody Allen’s light-hearted trip into the past is saved by likeable Owen Wilson

LAST UPDATED AT 12:43 ON Fri 7 Oct 2011

IF WOODY ALLEN is a director who, as The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw puts it, "has outlived his heyday", then Midnight in Paris is a clear riff on this theme, dwelling as it does on the empty promises and hypnotic power of the past.
 
Gil (Owen Wilson) is an American screenwriter who, while visiting Paris with his cold fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams), finds himself increasingly yearning for the golden age of 1920s Paris.
 
Already the parallels with Allen are clear, and the whimsies of both director and protagonist are indulged when Gil is transported back in time after accepting a ride with some drunken strangers in a vintage Peugeot.
 
This is Allen's "freshest, most personal film in years," writes Wendy Ide in The Times. Other critics agree, praising the film variously as a "souffle", "a breeze, a bauble" and "light as a meringue".
 
The film is saved by the thoroughly likeable Wilson, who The Daily Telegraph's Tim Robey writes, "joshes the movie along" and "makes its flimsiness fun". Although he is more "re-actor than actor" here, says Peter Debruge in the Hollywood trade paper Variety, the film gets off easy thanks to his "unassuming charm".
 
Tellingly, the film is at its best when it is in the past. Allen’s own love of the era is evident as he casts everyone from Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) to Salavador Dali (Adrien Brody) and F Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston).
 
But even the greats get nostalgic. Picasso's mistress (Marion Cotillard) wishes she lived in the bygone days of the Belle Epoque, forcing both Gil and the audience to recognise that the 'golden age' will always be an ephemeral moment in the past.
 
And so it is with Allen, says The New York Times's A O Scott, who "can hardly be unaware that he himself is, for much of his audience, an object of nostalgic affection".

Midnight in Paris is "marvellously romantic" with moments of "inspired silliness" writes Scott. It may not be Allen's best, but it’s certainly closer to the good old days than his previous attempts, and for that reason alone, it’s worth seeing. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.