Gil (Owen Wilson) and his beautiful fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) are visiting Paris with her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). Gil is a successful Hollywood screenwriter but he really wants to be a novelist. He also really wants to live in Paris, even though he doesn’t speak French.
Gil is oblivious to the fact that though Inez is very sexy, he and she have nothing in common. And he can’t stand her parents who are so dreadfully bourgeois. Yuck yuck yuck yuck yuck. Gil also can’t stand Inez’s friend Paul (Michael Sheen), an annoying pedantic professor who knows a lot more about everything than Gil does.
So far we have a bunch of characters who are kind of amusing but not very appealing. Things start to pick up when a somewhat drunk Gil, wandering though the streets of Paris at midnight, is accosted by some people in a classic car who invite him to a late-night party. Everyone there is dressed in 1920s clothes and they all seem to have strangely familiar names like “Cole Porter” (Yves Heck), “Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald” (Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston) and “Hemingway” (Corey Stoll).
It takes Gil a surprisingly long time to figure out that he has been transported back to that moment in history when practically everyone worth mentioning in the literary and artistic world either lived in Paris or at least passed through it. He is tempted to remain there and who can blame him? The movie’s 1920s characters are far, far more interesting than the 21st century characters. Corey Stoll portrays Ernest Hemingway as a man of stunning charisma, someone that just about anyone would want to go back and have a chat with. Gertrude Stein, as played by Kathy Bates, appears to be a woman of remarkable patience and compassion, willing to offer a would-be novelist far more attention and encouragement than he probably deserves.
And this brings up what may be the most unsettling thing for anyone familiar with Woody Allen’s earlier movies. Gil is obviously the “Woody Allen character”; at least he says and does the sort of things that the Woody Allen characters always does. This character, played by Woody Allen in dozens of films, tends to get our sympathy because he’s smart but insecure and neurotic.
However Owen Wilson plays Gil as an “Owen Wilson character.” He doesn’t seem insecure or neurotic. He seems a bit smug and a bit dim, the sort of guy who is used to surviving not by his wits, but on his good looks and his ability to BS his way out of any situation. It is hard to believe that he is really capable of writing a great novel. He seems a poseur who doesn’t really belong with the great artists he is palling around with.
Which raises an uncomfortable thought about those earlier Woody Allen characters: were they poseurs too? It this intentional?