Because first of all, how can one not love someone with the name Alison Pill? Its nursery cadence, like Marjorie Daw or Scarborough Fair, that heavenly last name that sounds like an insult? On top of it, she’s cute as a button, like Ellen Page minus the smug, because you know if you grew up with the name Alison Pill, you’ve taken some lumps.
Pill is a loopy delight as Zelda Fitzgerald, just one of the art deco-era characters that populate Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen’s latest is hardly a masterpiece, but it is bubbly good fun, and it’s the first time I can remember him actually inserting historical characters into a movie. He’s always terrific with period pieces; Bullets over Broadway and The Purple Rose of Cairo are two of his finest 90 minutes. Here, the characters’ dialogue is non-sentimental and snappy. The casting is even better than the writing, particularly a solid Corey Stoll as Hemingway and a droll Adrian Brody as Salvador Dali, who redeems the choice of Owen Wilson by noting that his lips look like they’re melting. If only Penelope Cruz had been on hand to play Gala. Sequel, Mr. Allen? Please?
Wilson is quite a bit less annoying than usual, restraining his customary stoner drawl and turning in a watchable performance. Sadly, Rachel McAdams, so terrific in Slings and Arrows, has been given a dreadful role; Allen nearly always has a bitchy, head-scratching choice of girlfriend who drives the protagonist to escape into fantasy and a hotter chick, but rarely does she get quite so much screen time. McAdams’s character is obnoxious to the point that the writing feels downright misogynistic, and her mother, played by Mimi Kennedy, doesn’t fare much better.
As the flip side of the coin, Marion Cotillard’s character doesn’t exactly get the long end of the stick, either. It’s impossible to not love Cotillard; she’s as beautiful as Isabella Rossellini and a much better actress. But the character can’t hold a candle to some of Allen’s wonderful women, including those played by Dianne Wiest in Hannah, Bullets, and Radio Days; Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton, Charlotte Rampling, and Tracy Ullmann have all been given much better material. Maybe mooning over Scarlett Johansson for all those movies shot in London flattened out Allen’s keyboard.
But let’s get back to Alison Pill. Say it with me: Alison Pill, Alison Pill, your name be proclaimed from a very high hill. Can’t you just feel the little bluebirds tweeting ’round your head now?