Movie Review: Paris Can Wait
A French roue takes his friend’s wife on a flirtatious motor trip in this love letter to food, charming villages and other, wiser films about the same subject
Paris Can Wait
Starring: Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard
Directed by: Eleanor Coppola
Running time: 92 minutes
By Jay Stone
Eleanor Coppola has directed several documentaries about movies made by her famous filmmaking husband (Francis) and daughter (Sofia.) Now, at 80, she has written and directed her first feature, Paris Can Wait, about an attractive American woman on a road trip in France where she learns to stop and smell the roses, mainly because her travelling companion — an old French roué who doesn’t let his friendship with her husband get in the way of his merciless flirtations — fills the back seat of his car with them. She has to smell them, and she has to stop to do so because the car keeps breaking down.
Paris Can Wait is the kind of meandering voyage into the pleasures of Europe — luxurious scenery, many close-ups of fabulously rich meals and sinful desserts — that you might expect from one of those venerable French directors whose late-life films are frequently hailed as quiet masterpieces of warm wisdom. Coppola’s version isn’t that, not because she isn’t an old Frenchman but because this movie is to slight, too derivative, too random to evoke anything but an appetite for some of those buttery croissants that come bathed in warm Mediterranean light. The chocolate crème brulee in this movie — a dessert that inspires the Frenchman to nickname his companion “brulee” — is so rich, so pornographic that you have to undo your belt just to watch it.
The American woman is Anne (Diane Lane, a sensuous delight), the wife of busy-busy-busy film producer Michael (Alec Baldwin, who’s barely in the picture) with whom she’s at the Cannes film festival. When he has to fly off to Budapest for work, she gets a lift to Paris with Jacques (Arnaud Viard), an old friend and — it turns out — a sensualist who has not let any woman (or bottle Chateauneuf du Pape, or escargot in garlic sauce) escape his purring appetite. He’s in no hurry to get to Paris, and who can blame him?
Jacques stops his ancient Peugeot every hour or so to smoke a cigarette (the Gallic love of tobacco is one of the themes of Paris Can Wait) and fill the radiator. He also stops at every little village that has a perfect inn, charming hotel, three-star restaurant, interesting museum, unmissable farmer’s market or old girlfriend. Anne wants to get going, but Jacques tells her, “Paris can wait.”
The result is a history lesson-cum-travelogue with a slightly erotic air that is trying to be worldly wise but comes across as . . . well, as an American version of what French savoir faire probably looks like. Anne isn’t much of an actor in her own life; for one thing, the French language is mostly a collection of unpronounceable sounds to her, and she can’t even order her own food. Jacques, meanwhile, is a live-action version of Pepe le Pew, gazing hungrily at Anne (or at dinner) and exclaiming his delight at various edible sights (“Look! Wild lupines!”) along the way, all while Mozart and Satie play on the car radio.
The result is a history lesson-cum-travelogue with a slightly erotic air that is trying to be worldly wise but comes across as . . . well, as an American version of what French savoir faire probably looks like.
It evokes classic French scenery, and in case you miss it, Coppola is happy to fill in the blanks: a picnic next to a river that is reminiscent of Dejeuner sur l’herbe is illustrated by a shot of the Manet painting.
Anne, being a sensible married woman, keeps her distance in various ways. She’s frequently on her cell phone with Michael — just as Jacques is on his; the seize-the-day attitudes of the movie are sometimes interrupted to seize that call — and there’s an intimation that Jacques’s trouble with his credit card is just an excuse to have Anne pay for all this luxury. There’s nothing as anti-aphrodisiac as a freeloader.
The open-ended conclusion hints as something more to come, but having travelled with this pair over their two-day trip to a one-day destination, we suspect that things will remain as they are. For all its infatuation with the pleasures of the flesh, Paris Can Wait has an old-fashioned morality. It’s not a life-changing event; it’s a road trip with three-course meals in rich sauces; pleasant to watch, but not as easy to digest.
THE EX-PRESS, June 24, 2017
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