This review was written for and appears on Punch Drunk Movies. Check out the site when you have a chance.
Anne (Diane Lane), in the middle of a two day trip from Cannes to Paris (a trip which should take about 8 hours), receives a phone call from her husband, Michael (Alec Baldwin). Why isn’t she already in Paris, he asks. What happened? “Nothing, yet,” she answers.
I looked down at my watch. The movie was only 20 minutes in. Dispiritedly, I mumbled to myself, “Yeah, that’s about right. Nothing’s happened.”
“Paris Can Wait” is directed by Eleanor Coppola (wife of Francis Ford) and at 80 years old, it’s also her first narrative film. That’s impressive, especially when you consider the storied pedigree of the Coppola names that she would inevitably be compared to, and because her creation would play out in such a public forum- in front of cranky, know-it-all critics like me. But respect or no, the movie has to be judged, fairly, on its own terms. Sadly, it doesn’t hold up to that scrutiny.
Anne is married to an important Hollywood producer who’s so busy he finds little time for her. They go to Cannes for a “vacation” because he’s filming a movie there, and he just goes on ignoring her, but the couple is soon separated when an ear ache prevents Anne from a side trip to Budapest. Michael’s business partner, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), steps in and offers to drive her to Paris instead where she will eventually meet up with Michael. What should be a day’s drive turns into a two day trip as Jacques wines, dines, and generally tour guides Anne through France and, he hopes, into his pants.
“Paris Can Wait” is a hangout movie, a genre I’m particularly fond of. The narrative is not in a hurry to get anywhere and is happy to chill out with the characters and just let them talk to one another. The problem with this version is that the conversations are often trite. Usually it’s some variation of “American’s are [insert negative adjective here], while French people are [insert positive adjective here].”
I must confess that I made a huge mistake before watching this movie; I ate a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (Half Baked, in case you were wondering). Not only was this an epic mistake health-wise, but movie-wise also; food is a big aspect of “Paris.” Half of it takes place in restaurants with loving shots of exquisite looking food. This and the lovely scenery provided by the Provence region are really the only things the movie has going for it, and I couldn’t enjoy either because I was packed with cookie dough, fudge, and vanilla/chocolate ice cream.
Even without that nutritional faux-pas, I can’t imagine really enjoying the film; it’s just not very good. Yes, it’s pleasant enough, but the characters are flat, and if the characters are the center of a film…well, you see where I’m going with this. Anne mostly just complains about all of the detours they’re taking, then enjoys them, and Jacques is a weird man-child, who’s supposed to be eccentric and fun loving, but his wooing of a married woman, mixed with tales of his infidelities and a later suggestion that he hooks up with another character while Anne tours a museum, just makes him creepy instead.
“Paris” finally lost me completely on a small detail: a character says the film’s title in the movie. Anne asks, once again, whether they’re going directly to Paris and Jacques smugly answers with, “Paris can wait.” The only thing that would have made me groan even more is if he had looked at the camera and raised an eyebrow as he said it.
Yeah, that would have been awful. So, of course, Eleanor Coppola actually has Anne do that very thing near the film’s end. As she mulls over a major decision, Anne takes a bite of chocolate, looks directly into the camera, smiles, and raises an eyebrow as if to say, “Don’t you wonder what I’m going to do?” I felt like reaching into my screen and gently nudging her eyebrow back down. Diane Lane is a good actor and a wonderful presence in cinema, but even she couldn’t punch through the dull writing and characters to make me care.
Eleanor Coppola tried to make a trifle of a film, a mostly sweet concoction that goes down easily. That’s a fine goal as far as I’m concerned. What she ended up with is more like a piffle: a whole lot of nothing.