A magical-realist gem harking back to "The Purple Rose of Cairo," "Midnight" is a bit thin and glib to call a masterpiece - at 75, Allen is unlikely to have another one of those in him - but it's still a delicious trifle for anyone who has ever dreamt of bantering about the cinema with Luis Buñuel or lounging at the piano to hear Cole Porter sing "Let's Do It."
Wilson, best known for playing the rakish pretty boy in such lowbrow comedies as "Wedding Crashers," stars as Gil Pender, a successful screenwriter who refers to himself as a "Hollywood hack" and is stuck in revision mode on his Great American Novel. He's in Paris with his blandly attractive fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), who's far more interested in his ability to pay for a Malibu mansion than in his restless romantic spirit.
Gil endures her disdain with the chipper loyalty of a dog, though his hackles are raised when they bump into her cloying ex, Paul (Michael Sheen). He discourses on Monet at Giverny and the architecture of Versailles. He corrects the tour guide at the Musée Rodin. He is . . . the most tedious man in the world.
But he does have Gil's number. Hearing the SoCal dilettante wax poetic about la vie bohème in the Paris of yesteryear, Paul quips, "All that's missing is the tuberculosis," and diagnoses his nostalgia for the Roaring Twenties as "a flaw in the mind of people who find it difficult to cope in the present."
Then, drunk and lost at midnight, Gil is rescued by a dashing couple in a "vintage" auto who turn out to be Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and drag him along to a Jazz Age soiree.
The parade of luminaries is ridiculous and delightsome. Stein (Kathy Bates) plays literary den mother, Dalí (Adrien Brody) obsesses on the beauty of the rhinoceros, and Hemingway (Corey Stall) talks as if reading from one of his novels, terse and muscular. (His verdict on an anxious, combed-over Pablo Picasso: "He's great, but he's no Miró.")
Gil is wowed by Mrs. Fitzgerald (played by Alison Pill with a boozy, bipolar verve), but it's Picasso's mistress, Adriana (Cotillard), who becomes the symbol of all his naive dreams. Yet she is too much like Gil: Her own present is a burden and a bewilderment, and she longs for the elegance of La Belle Époque.
While the denouement is predictable, the little surprises along the way make "Midnight in Paris" a satisfying love letter not only to the City of Light but to "cultchah" itself.