Wilson, as Gil Pender, is a Hollywood script writer visiting Paris with his ruthlessly mercantile fiance and her mother and father. Gil has a novel he's been writing for years, but has never let anyone read except his fiance. Gil is overwhelmed with the romance of Paris, and in particular, with the golden age of the 1920s. His fiance and her family are decidedly underwhelmed by the place, although mother and daughter are delighted by the expensive shopping.
Pender is bottled up in his own time, his own thoughts, his own dreams, with a fiance who is exasperated at his desire to live in Paris and write novels, when he's doing so well financially living in California re-writing movie scripts.
One drunken evening, as Pender wanders the streets, lost and alone, he is taken by a boisterous group of well dressed folks in an old taxi to a party, where he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Slowly Gil realizes that he has traveled back to the 1920s. Each evening, as his relationship with his fiance becomes more strained, he visits with his expanding group of friends: Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, and many more. Stein and Hemingway help him with his novel, as do Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel.
He meets and falls in love with Picasso's mistress, Adriana, whose own longing is for the Belle Epoch of turn of the century Paris. With Adriana, Gil travels even further back in time, and receives an epiphany while talking with Adriana, who is being wooed by Gauguin at the Moulin Rouge.
Nevertheless, the movie is a funny and kindhearted look at human beings, and that is always welcome.
I had my own epiphany during the movie: there were no children. None.
The closest thing to a child in the movie was Inez, the 30 something daughter who was Gil's fiance. For some inexplicable reason her parents were traveling with her and her fiance, which served to emphasize the fact of her childhood. Yet even Inez was not a child, but an adolescent, sexually mature but still existing in the circumstances of childhood.
In a sense, everyone in the movie was an adolescent, from Pender and Inez to Picasso and his mistress, from Hemingway to Gauguin.
The perpetuation of adolescence is the air we breathe, the water we swim in. We prolong adolescence on into our 50s now, with people calling their 55 year old live-in a "girlfriend." We refuse to move past adolescence. The Rolling Stones are now in their 60s, still playing their defiant adolescence act to packed houses. It's more than odd; it's bizarre. How can there be such an audience for old men preening about in tight leather pants? Truly weird.
Even those who marry look back longingly on their adolescence, like Lot's wife looking back on Sodom. There is a conviction in our society that all of life's great moments and insights are had while an adolescent, and that marriage and children are just the beginning of death.
Yet in my own life this certainly has not been so. Quite the contrary, it has only been since I've had children, with all the aches and sadness and amazing laughter and joy, that I've become fully grown up, fully alive, fully aware of all that life has to offer.
I think that people who make movies are generally frightened of growing up. They fear this part of life and avoid it in their own lives, and fear it and avoid it in their movies. We've become a generation of aging adolescents, stuck in our own fear and selfishness, frightened to death of growing up and being married and having children and getting old.
More's the pity. Someday maybe we'll have some grown up movies again, when we start having grown up lives.
Meanwhile, Woody Allen still makes me laugh, and still makes pretty pictures.