Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" -- opening Friday at the Charles -- is a frothy delight. One big reason is the way that star Owen Wilson merges his drawling, comically contemplative persona with Allen's edgy, neurotic one. Wilson manages to be a charming combination of aspiring artist and innocent abroad.

But aside from exploiting his own distinctive and endearing manner, Wilson actually plays Woody Allen more directly than any other actor Allen has used as a surrogate in his movies.

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Allen has rarely or never lacked confidence as a writer, the way Wilson's character does, and as far as I know he didn't have a youthful pre-marital crisis in Paris. (Wilson plays a successful but self-loathing screenwriter struggling with his first novel while on a trip to the City of Light with his bride-to-be, played by Rachel McAdams, and his future in-laws.)

But "Midnight in Paris" does have autobiographical roots.

As Allen reveals in Eric Lax' splendid "Conversations with Woody Allen," when he wrote his first script, for the smash-hit Peter Sellers-Peter O'Toole farce, "What's New, Pussycat?" (1965), "I had, or fancied myself having, an artistic temperament, and I was plunged into Hollywood at its most venal."

There he was, hating his new life as a screenwriter -- and "the redeeming thing about the film was that I got to spend eight months in Paris and I developed a love for the city. I have a regret, or a semi-regret, that I didn't stay there. Two of the girls who did the costumes liked Paris so much they stayed there and lived there and worked there. I didn't have their independence or spirit or originality. It took a more adventurous soul than me to do it, and it's a shame."

The happy result, 46 years later, is "Midnight in Paris."

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