Gil, an American novelist on holiday in Paris with his fiancée Inez and her parents starts to have doubts about his relationship and also has strange experiences where he seems to travel back in time to famous periods in the history of Paris.
This is a Woody Allen film and this seems to mean that many of the main characters are horrible and unlikeable. Inez and her family are incredibly unsupportive of her Gil and his attempts to become a serious novelist after a successful career as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Her dad is the nicest of the bunch and despite holding vastly different political views isn’t openly hostile to his Gil or his career plans. However his unapologetically hates Paris and given that the city itself is a main character this is almost as bad if not worse than the naked disdain the rest of his family hold for Gill and his aspirations.
Family friend John is the classic know-it-all and spends most of his scenes lecturing the rest of the characters on anything and everything he can claim expertise on from history to philosophy to art and wine tasting. He isn’t overtly hostile to Gil but is always trying to prove his superior intellect and obviously considers Gil to be intellectually inferior. His partner Carol doesn’t add much to the proceedings except to conveniently disappear when the script calls for John and Inez to be alone together.
It does feel a little like the rest of the main characters are so unlikeable simply so that the predominantly selfish decisions made by Gil during the film seem more like a righteous man following his dreams than a selfish man making choices he knows will make his loved ones miserable. By contrast, everyone he meets from past eras is universally welcoming and friendly. Random people pick him up and take him on whirlwind escapades, famous writers appraise his book and famous women fall in love with him. Of course this can all be attributed to it being his fantasy but the jarring difference really makes the people he knows in the present seem even more one dimensional.
The main draw of this film is the various historical periods of Paris and the characters we meet. These are all depicted lovingly and in great detail. It is fun to spot all the famous characters and although after a while Gil’s overawed and shocked reaction to meeting his heroes in the flesh becomes a little repetitive and dull it is fun to watch his reactions to meeting with Hemmingway, Picasso, Fitzgerald, Eliot, etc.
Disappointingly, although the artwork for the film depicts the sky of Paris replaced with Van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night but the artist himself is conspicuously missing from the raft of historic figures he meets on his travels. Admittedly it makes more sense for a writer to meet with literary figures but he does meet many painters so it seems a shame to miss out this interesting character.
Of course, in the end Gil’s trips into the past lead to revelations for him. Firstly that whatever era you live in the temptation is always to believe that things were better in some mythical golden age and secondly that he is engaged to a horrible woman he would be better off without. The film leaves him at a turning point having made a decision hopefully for the better.