Paris Can Wait, and it’s a pleasant trip

B- Travelogue romance
Written and directed by Eleanor Coppola

The best compliment I can give Eleanor Coppola’s narrative feature debut is pleasant. Paris Can Wait is not particularly funny or dramatic. Although the plot revolves around whether two people will sleep together, it’s not sexy. In a few scenes, it opens modest insights into the lead character. But mostly, it’s just pleasant.

The story starts at Cannes, just after the festival. Anne (Diane Lane) is married to a hard-charging movie producer (Alec Baldwin – who we only see in the first few minutes). Like all such powerful men in movies, he ignores his wife. They’re going to Paris for a vacation, but he must go elsewhere to get a movie back on budget, and she’s having ear problems that keep her from flying.

So his French business partner, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), offers to drive her to Paris. That drive becomes the film’s narrative backbone.

Jacques is witty and charming. He obsesses over food and wine – his favorite subjects. He smokes like a chimney. He appears to know nothing except how to enjoy life. He insists that everything is better in France. Add a beret and he’d be the ultimate stereotypical Frenchman.

He clearly has lovers all over France and wants another conquest. He turns the one-day trip into 3 days. He takes Anne out to gourmet meals (on her credit card) and explains everything about the food and wine. He argues against monogamous marriages and suggests that her husband has cheated on her.

Anne is charmed by his attention, and the wine goes to her head. But she’s smart enough to see through his act. Indeed, what little suspense the movie has dissipates as she gets to know him better.

To a large degree, Paris Can Wait becomes a travelogue. Anne and Jacques admire the views as he explains the history behind them. The couple have a picnic by the road. They visit two museums (three if you count a cathedral), including the Institut Lumière in Lyons – a very pleasing digression for any cinephiles in the audience.

In many scenes, the movie becomes food porn – a popular arthouse genre that I personally don’t like. Coppola treats us to sumptuous close-ups of meat, vegetables, wines, and deserts, while Jacques explains why they’re wonderful.

I doubt the film would work without Diane Lane – an excellent actress with a sympathetic aura. You care about Anne because Lane makes her likeable. When she worries about her daughter or explains the horrible tragedy in her past, your heart goes out to her. (Francis and Eleanor Coppola had a similar tragedy.)

I don’t know to what degree Paris Can Wait is autobiographical. Probably not much. The seductive French gourmet is probably fictitious. But writer/director Eleanor Coppola is married to a famous filmmaker turned vintner, so we can assume that she knows the world in which the film is set.

Paris Can Wait hangs a slight story about a nice person onto a pleasant setting. It’s not a bad way to spend 90 minutes. But it’s hardly something to get excited about.