By Jim Slotek
A cross-country trip punctuated by fine-dining and wine, and a journey-not-the-destination personal exploration. There’s a terrific little movie to be made there.
Eleanor is the wife of Francis Ford Coppola, and she proved her chops as a documentary filmmaker 26 years ago with Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, her darkly-candid look back at her husband’s nightmarish experience making Apocalypse Now.
But working in a lighter note? Well, she only seems to know one. And it plays constantly, like an accordion in a stereotypical French square.
Based apparently on a personal experience, Paris Can Wait is the story of Anne (Diane Lane), the wife of a workaholic movie producer named Michael (Alec Baldwin, whose few sleepwalk appearances in this movie barely amount to cameos).
Their marriage is without ardour, if not entirely loveless. Her only diversion – an L.A. vanity-project fashion store – has recently ceased operation. So she’s accompanying her husband on a series of production-finance trips through Europe. Bored, she suggests skipping part of his itinerary, traveling on her own, and meeting up with him in Paris.
Pushing this idea is Michael’s business partner Jacques (Arnaud Viard), a Frenchman whose insouciance is pushed to 11. He will drive her to Paris – what should be a one-day drive - stopping at restos and hotels along the way, plying her with food and grape, all the while pursuing no-strings French intimacy with an insistence just this side of Pepe le Pew.
This is a road movie that has no ups and downs, no change in mood. Jacques pulls over at some latest “best in all of France” establishment, orders up fine country cuisine made with craft and care, keeps refilling Anne’s wine glass, and is repeatedly and good-naturedly rebuffed by the tipsy object of his affection.
Oh, and Jacques’ car breaks down – the moment when two cultures clash good-naturedly over practicality. (Ah, what can you do? Let’s go eat and drink some more!).
Jacques is also a bit of a mooch, with no credit card in hand and repeatedly, conspicuously short of funds. People in every town seem to know him, and an attractive museum curator d’une certaine age even sneaks him out for a quick bootie call.
It’s dismaying to see a pro like Diane Lane fail to do the one job asked of her – to portray a character who rediscovers her joie de vivre (being in a somewhat better mood at the end of the movie than the beginning doesn’t really count).
The odd thing is that Coppola frames food and wine in more loving close-ups than she does people in this movie. If nothing else, Paris Can Wait can make you very hungry. And if it has a natural target audience, it’s the demographic that has The Food Network on as background noise.
If food porn is reason enough for a movie to exist, then it’s Paris Can Wait’s single raison d’etre. For the rest of us, it’s an awful long way to go for a few good meals.
Paris Can Wait. Directed and written by Eleanor Coppola.. Starring Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard and Alec Baldwin. Opens May 26 in Toronto and Vancouver.
Jim Slotek is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.