'Paris Can Wait'
For years, Eleanor Coppola promised to make a movie that wasn’t a documentary about one of her husband Francis’ productions. The whole Coppola clan have talked about it. They said there was a script and it was great. They lied. Sadly, Mama Coppola’s directorial debut ‘Paris Can Wait’ is as empty as it is obviously personal.
It’s clear that Coppola needed to make this movie, but it’s unclear why she thought that anyone else would want to watch the woe-is-me problems of a wealthy woman who has too many kind men in love with her and is forced to endure too many gorgeous sightseeing French adventures and delectable meals. To borrow a phrase from another Coppola’s production, “The horror, the horror…”
Diane Lane stars as Anne, the neglected wife of a famous movie producer named Michael (Alec Baldwin). The story starts at the Cannes Film Festival, where Anne suffers the pain of having a gourmet breakfast by herself next to a beautiful vista of the French Riviera while Michael chats away on the phone, pausing only to let her know that he loves her. How abhorrent! Anyhoo, the couple are supposed to fly off to Paris together for a romantic getaway from their current romantic location, but Michael needs to go to supervise his latest out-of-control production first. He’ll use their private jet for that and meet her in Paris. Anne is disappointed at first, but fortunately Michael’s French associate Jacques (Arnaud Viard) offers to drive her to Paris himself. Along the way, they keep stopping for sightseeing and five-star dining. It annoys Anne, but not too much. That’s the biggest drama in the movie. It goes on for 90 minutes and feels like you’re stuck in the car with this pair in real time.
Obviously, the low-key nature of ‘Paris Can Wait’ is intentional. Eleanor Coppola isn’t going for melodrama or operatic filmmaking. She’s crafting a small tale about small emotions defined more by the directions that the character doesn’t take than the directions that she does. For all of Jacques’ cartoonish French stereotypes (chain-smoking, impractical car-owning, amateur philosophizing, snail-eating, using the expression “you Americans,” etc.), he’s not a dastardly lothario guided by his penis and using words as a weapon. He seems genuinely sweet and his connection with Anne is at least credible in the way it builds over time. The trouble is that the movie is just too small. There’s little tension or drama. It’s pretty clear where everything is heading early on and there’s little surprise beyond how many diversions the movie takes wasting time to get to an obvious destination.
If you like to go to the theater for leisurely sightseeing, ‘Paris Can Wait’ will fill that void. The film endlessly diverts into little museums, monuments and other tourist sites that Coppola shoots in loving ways. It just never adds up too much. Michael Winterbottom’s ‘The Trip’ series takes a similar approach to structure through sightseeing, but gets away with it because the core of the movies are engaging and hilarious conversations between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. The chats that the two protagonists share here are too small and inconsequential to hold any interest. The characters’ problems come from such extraordinary privilege that they’re virtually impossible to relate to. (Anne’s big weakness: she likes chocolate. How crazy?!) Even though the characters are pleasant and the actors gifted, after a while it’s hard not to be annoyed and bored. The tension they feel might be dramatic to live through in the moment, but blown up into a film, it feels dull to observe. At a certain point, you’ll feel like a trapped third wheel desperate to leave and do pretty much anything else.
‘Paris Can Wait’ feels like a personal passion project, possibly even mildly autobiographical. (Francis now has films made by both his wife and daughter about the emptiness of living in the shadow of a Hollywood power player, which has to make for awkward family dinners at Chez Coppola.) The director has an eye for crafting delicate, pretty pictures. However, her script is small to the point of inconsequential tedium and personal to the point of navel gazing. The movie is for an audience so selective that it might be a single person named Eleanor Coppola.