Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen’s surprisingly delightful film is the perfect way to enter into Summer Movie Mind: that mental state in which one doesn’t ask much from the movies except to cool down in that delicious air-conditioned dark and laugh at jokes that feel neither too challenging nor too cheap. To look at pretty people onscreen and receive a narrative resolution that works well enough. In short, this film is an amuse-bouche for summer movie watching.

There’s a line somewhere in the middle of Midnight in Paris in which our hero, Gil (Owen Wilson: why didn’t I ever notice what a good, better-looking Woody Allen he is?) tries to explain his love of cities. They’re better than stories, better than films, he explains — because they’re alive. In every neighborhood, around every corner you find something new, alive. He’s so exactly right on this score, and so reminiscent of Allen at his much-missed best, that the film does double duty: it also makes you want to schedule in a week in a great international city.

In this case he’s trying to explain his love of Paris — and if there’s anyone capable of convincing you to love a city, it’s Woody Allen. Those of us who forget everything that was annoying about Manhattan (by which I mean Woody Allen dating the 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway) do so because of the way it’s a love story to the city of New York. This one is even more delightful — because Allen and his Gil stand-in are both outsiders to the city of Paris, thereby drawing all of us in as compatriots. Whereas his New York movies always give me the teeniest barb, as if they’re trying to tell me I can never truly understand the city like a native, this one is just like the most perfect European vacation you can imagine.

The film is really a tale of how Gil finds himself — and the minute he meets Marion Cotillard as Adriana, we know that things have got to get better. She’s a beautiful woman who’s just as prone to romanticizing the past as Gil is — now Cotillard is one of those female actors who make me fall in love with them the minute they appear. But  the whole cast of bit characters are pitch-perfect delight, not least of whom is Adrien Brody in a short part.

I don’t know about you, but I have a feast of summer movies ahead of me: there’s the new X-Men: First Class, and then Harry Potter and Mike Mills’ Beginners (when, oh when, will this arrive at my local theater??), Larry Crowne (JustMeMike and I are planning another long conversation about it!), and Captain America, which I’m only going to see because my Dear Friend has been pumping up enthusiasm so effectively. And there are the weightier films — I’m so excited about Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life that I can barely speak; and then there’s the possibility I’ll get access to some of those other films we heard about via the Cannes Film Festival, such as The Artist and We Need to Talk About Kevin. In short, our movie waistlines will engorge with empty calories. Why not start with the perfect amuse-bouche: Woody Allen at his best in years.

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