Half a love letter to France and half a love letter to food, this sunny trip up to Paris is very much about the destination.
I’ve recently been reminded of a very important question when it comes to watching movies: do we care about the characters? You may be wondering how I could have forgotten to ask myself that question as I slip into the tenth minute of the movie. I would say the point is never asking yourself in the first place.
Eleanor Coppola’s first fiction film Paris Can Wait is a triumph of enchantment. A masterful filmmaker and artist, Coppola is known for her behind-the-scenes documentary of her husband’s famously iconic film Apocalypse Now. The departure from the heat and sweltering madness of Vietnam to the sunny and clear-skied landscapes of Provence is a joy and surprise. And that’s what it is to watch this film—a complete and utter joy.
Diane Lane as Anne is a subtle, wry woman who is a too smart to be in the position she’s in and yet, perhaps, uncharacteristically acquiescent to never make any changes. Immediately likeable for no reason other than thinking, I like her. Her husband, however, played by the cardboard cutout that is Alec Baldwin, is a Hollywood sketch of power executive. He has made a kind-of vacation out of his need to do business abroad and it works out rather to Anne’s favor: he’s a movie producer who happens to do business in glamorous, sun drenched places like Cannes, Budapest and Paris. After blaming a well-timed earache, Anne decides that she’s skipping the Budapest leg of the trip and going to straight to Paris. Cue a charming Frenchman who offers to drive her all the way there.
The simpatico relationship between Arnaud Viard, who plays the charming Frenchman Jacques, and Lane is as sumptuous as the delicacies they eat and as smooth as the wine that is poured ever so invitingly. Jacques, a revealed ladies man and business partner of Anne’s husband, is as theatrical as a realistic person can get. His questions are blunt, unfiltered and disappointingly, at times, he lives up to a caricature of the French stereotype some Americans may have. And yet the flirtatiously awkward banter between Lane and Viard beams so brightly, you get the feeling Coppola wanted to create a will-they-won’t-they without over playing the hand.
Coppola’s skill as a camerawoman is remarkable. She has an eye for beautiful things and she understands the idea of laissez-faire better than the French. With the grazing eye of the camera, we are given flashing impressions of the airy French country-side along with famous impressionist and post-impressionist art. We even get Anne’s amateur photographs. The food, the culture, the art, the wine and even Anne’s photographs are, as Alec Baldwin criticizes “wasteful extravagance.” They serve no real purpose to the story except to say “This is what I indulge in, let me have it.”
Now to the question: do we care about the characters?
Anne is a somewhat problematic character. Problematic from conception is the worst kind of problematic to be. On one hand I can buy into Coppola’s desire for a light and mischevious road-trip, a Woody-Allen inspired tumble of questionable motivations and quirky personalities. On the other, I’m a little disappointed that Anne is so defined by the men she’s surrounded by. Caged in on a beautiful holiday then carted around France with stranger she barely knows, two men have more control over her movements than she does herself. We are invited into a moment of Anne’s life—we’re only allowed that moment and no more— so we’re desperate for more about her. Her decisions, her motivations, they’re as subtle and wry as the smile she quirks at Jacques when he says something outrageously inappropriate. The moment Anne seizes control doesn’t feel like a victory to us, but I think, knowing Anne, it was well fought win.
In theaters May 12th.
Cast: Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard, Alec Baldwin
Director: Eleanor Coppola
Writer: Eleanor Coppola
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running time: 92 minutes.
Rating: Not rated.