What I like most about this movie is Paris itself. The one time I visited there, I was struck by its elegance and timeworn grandeur. Of course it looks just as beautiful on film. Even if Allen had done nothing but show us the city without characters or dialogue, it would still be a better movie than about half the ones I see. If you’ve never been there, you should go. And if you can’t go, might as well watch this film. It really does look like that, except a little more crowded.
But back to the movie. Its premise is pretty lightweight: Everyone thinks the best days are in the past, but they’re really not. A successful but frustrated screenwriter decides he hates Hollywood, and imagines how fine it would be to hang with the literary lions who populated Paris in the ’20s. Somehow he gets the chance to to just that.
As characters, those literary lions are nothing more than caricatures of themselves: Hemingway talks exactly like he writes; Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda really like to drink; Gertrude Stein does nothing but read everybody else’s work and offer constructive advice. The other characters aren’t much better. Gil’s fiancee comes off as thoroughly unlovable (so how did they get together?); her rich parents are the classic ugly Americans: clueless, insular snobs.
So there’s no real pathos or conflict. Everything unfolds just as you’d expect. Gil’s wedding plans begin to seem colossally misguided. Let’s see: A shallow Malibu blond, or the exotic and sensual Marion Cotillard? If there’s one thing to criticize here, besides the gauziness of the plot, it’s the complete lack of surprises from beginning to end. I’m not sure how this came to be an Oscar nominee. But then the competition wasn’t so awesome either, was it?
Still, there’s that beautiful city, the best character of all. Like the woman said: We’ll always have Paris.