It begins with a gloriously sublime montage of images of Paris, in the sunshine and the rain, all of which evoke the classic view of romantic Paris, before centring on Gil (Owen Wilson), an aspiring writer (and disillusioned screenwriting ‘hack’) who is in the city with his fiancée, the rather high maintenance, Inez. It is becomes very clear very quickly that Gil and Inez (Rachel McAdams) are not even in the same bookstore, let alone on the same page, but they persist in pursuing the illusion of the perfect relationship even when it is manifestly clear that nothing of the kind exists.
Gil, particularly, is convinced that life could be better if he could stay in Paris and write, a notion dismissed by Inez (‘You’re in love with a fantasy’), and her right wing upper middle class parents, Jim (Kurt Fuller) and Helen (Mimi Kennedy) without any thought. It is enough for them to be in a safe, predictable career, and living the ‘right’ kind of life, and little regard is given for the idea that life should have meaning or purpose. Gil, though, cannot surrender the sense that he is missing something profound, and furthermore is sure that he would be happier, not just in Paris, but Paris of the 1920s.
One night, while out walking he is collected by a car that transports him away from the present day and into his self-described golden age, where he must decide if it is really as good as he had believed. His time there leads him on a journey of self-discovery that culminates in decisions that fundamentally alter the course of his life, but not necessarily in the way he imagined.
This movie is a sheer delight. From its explorations of what makes us truly happy, and the push-and-pull between our current reality, and our idealised reality, to the witty wordplay, and sparkling characterisations, this magic piece of cinema dares to both look beautiful and say something worthwhile, and underlines that Woody Allen still has much to say, and we should be watching and listening.