**1/2 out of ****
(for thematic elements, smoking, and some language)
Released: May 12, 2017 NY/LA; June 16, 2017 wide
Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Eleanor Coppola
Starring: Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard, Alec Baldwin, Élodie Navarre (Laura Karpman)
Leave the movie, eat some cannoli.
At the spry age of 81, Eleanor Coppola – wife of Francis Ford and mother to Sofia, both Oscar-winning auteurs – makes her directorial debut with Paris Can Wait, a jaunty Euro road trip with all of the necessary ingredients for a sumptuous art house truffle. There is much here to warm the heart and put a soothing smile on your face but, alas, Coppola’s strengths are in producing, not directing.
Her keen eye for gathering the right resources (this movie has virtually everything it needs) doesn’t transpose artistically; few of the film’s treats work together in an effective or endearing organic harmony. Each element is divinely sophisticated, but the collective whole rarely is.
In this frothy bit of Chic Lit cinema, Diane Lane – who became like family to the Coppolas during her young collaborations with Francis in The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and The Cotton Club – plays Anne, the wife of a hard-working Hollywood producer named Michael (Alec Baldwin, who literally phones in most of his performance).
He’s inattentive, distracted by work emergencies, and clueless as to how he subordinates Anne’s life to his own, yet even as Michael takes his wife for granted he’s still clearly in love with her. Nevertheless he’s in serious need of a wakeup call, she needs some appreciation, and they’re both are about to get it.
In a rush to leave Cannes for Paris, Anne’s travel options fall apart in the first of several forced contrivances. Her remaining alternative? Go with Jacques (French actor Arnaud Viard), a French business associate of Michael’s who’s headed that way via highway himself. She takes the offer, and the two set out on a luxurious travelogue from the southern Croisette to the northern capital, every mile filled with lush locales, museums and landmarks, sunny sights, and foodie delights.
This is a movie so, of course, the possibility of forbidden romance looms, although for Anne it’s ultimately an emotional fling, not a sexual one. She’s assessing her midlife, where the rest of it goes from here, and if Michael’s in the picture, but it all stays an easy breezy affair, not a tawdry or tormented one.
Jacques, however, seems to have more amorous designs on his mind, each coyly suggested but in increasing measure. Meant to give the excursion its jolt of romance (or, at least for Anne, a reawakening of passion), Jacques’ would-be catalytic presence fails with surprising consistency because, at least here, Arnaud Viard is not a compelling romantic figure or muse. He’s scripted to provide a slow-burning spark that Anne should find difficult to resist, but Viard’s cavalier approach makes Jacques awkward, and occasionally creepy, not swoon worthy.
Despite his vast insights as a tour guide, with an attention to detail and Anne’s experience of it, Jacques’ advances (whether in look, insinuation, or gesture) feel intrusive, not welcome. He’s easy going, amiable, and observant, but there’s no charm there. Instead, Jacques simply comes off as what he actually is: a vivacious associate of Anne’s husband who has good taste but oversteps his bounds while leeching an extended vacation off of her credit cards.
She rebuffs his most direct signals, which makes sense given how clumsy they are, yet it’s clear that Coppola would have us believe Anne does so while resisting a desire to give in. The fact that Anne and Jacques confess a meaningful connection between each other is hard to believe.
Lane does her best to create some chemistry, sometimes working too hard for it (though it’s hard to blame her), but Viard is simply not attractive or alluring, thus nullifying Jacques’ primary function. A simple bit of recasting, say, with Best Actor Oscar winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) would’ve made a world of difference, and helped smooth over Coppola’s directorial rough edges.
Or better yet, Paris Can Wait would’ve been more compelling, and empowering, had Anne made the journey of her own volition, within her own agency, as a proactive choice to take stock, find herself, and do it on her terms, and not on the whims of a cad. Sure, if you want some romance, give her some winking dalliances along the way, maybe even a profound (if brief) connection, but the presence of Jacques ends up compromising Anne’s arc of self-discovery, and reduces it to a gossipy anecdote.
Composer Laura Karpman’s Riviera-tinged jazz does much of the tonal heavy lifting, and to the extent you’re transported during these ninety minutes it’s due to her music (seriously, make this score – available on Spotify – the soundtrack to your summer) and cinematographer Crystel Fournier’s picturesque frames, from gorgeous landscapes to glossy still life.
Paris Can Wait is the movie equivalent of a French weekend getaway, complete with vicarious flirtations, yet you’ll end up rooting for Baldwin’s dolt of a husband to come around more than you will for Anne to indulge in some “justified” tryst. I suspect Coppola was hoping for the reverse, given how the film ends on an obvious cue for a second trip, but the only new holiday worth taking is the one where Anne sets out on her own, still heard through Karpman’s ear and seen through Fournier’s eye.