Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
PARIS CAN WAIT, but booking your travel to France right after you see writer-director Eleanor Coppola’s road trip romance absolutely cannot. This movie is a love letter to the warm beauty of the French countryside and mouth-watering haute cuisine. The French Tourism Board should be using this as a travelogue. I can almost hear the campaign now: “Ladies! Come escape the doldrums of your boring marriage! Use food as a sex supplement! Men! Drive around our beautiful provinces with your business partner’s wife and flirt relentlessly with her! What could be better?!” Though this seemingly semi-biographical film highlights the French joie de vivre and embodies their patented je ne sais quoi, sadly it also showcases a very conventional, Anglo-Saxon way of character development.
Anne Lockwood (Diane Lane) is used to being ignored by her movie producer husband Michael (Alec Baldwin, who literally phones in 90% of his performance). He’s been taking her for granted for decades. Within minutes of meeting them in their luxury Cannes hotel suite, we can tell this much is true. The cheeseburger story – she has to order two menu items to get the one she wanted, and he complains she’s wasting money – is demonstrative of how their marriage functions. If it’s not enough that she’s consistently cropped out of paparazzi photos, she’s left to suffer the indignities of schlepping his bags down the stairs. However, an opportunity for a mini-break presents itself when her husband’s business partner Jacques (Arnaud Viard) makes her an offer she can’t refuse. While her husband is off putting out fires on set in Budapest, Jacques volunteers to drive Anne to her apartment in Paris. It’ll be half-a-day’s drive, she thinks. Wrong! Jacques takes culinary detour after culinary detour, stopping every hour to smoke and fill up his rust-bucket Peugeot convertible. But somewhere during those surprising and blessedly unexpected stops, Anne rediscovers who she is… because of course she does.
Essentially, this could be called “UNDER THE PARISIAN SUN,” as it’s Lane’s second foray into the rich, white female mid-life crisis. Oh we have so many WASProblems! *collapses dramatically on a fainting couch. Needless to say, this one’s for niche audiences since the narrative’s universality isn’t very far reaching. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because if Nancy Meyers can make a profitable career off these kinds of features, so can Coppola.
Coppola, who makes this her first ever narrative feature, takes a page from Meyers’ whimsy-conjuring, fantasy world-building workbook – give or take a scene starring a roast chicken. The lush scenery and beautiful locations do a lot of the heavy lifting. If you say you have no desire to travel to France to recreate this road trip, you’d be marked a liar. The food also augments the lust-worthiness of Anne’s travels. Even her travails seem appealing. You’ll thirst for a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape.
Coppola trusts her cream-color-clad leading lady to hit the emotional drive home. Because we love Lane so much (and wish we could be her when we grow up), we inherently root for Anne to find gumption laying by the roadside. Unfortunately, she doesn’t pick it up with as much gusto as the story deserves. Coppola’s script doesn’t totally afford her the material to do so. Her heroine’s journey doesn’t have much oomph to its arc. The script wants you to think Anne’s frustrations in not being able to get to Paris are supposed to be funny. Instead, that backfires, making her seem ungrateful. Anne spends much of the run time not really appreciative of this special guided experience afforded her.
Other characters and situations are a little one note. Of course Jacques is painted as a French stereotype, womanizing, smoking and acting laissez faire about Anne’s wants. Not only one, but two men don’t really listen to her wishes. She also never speaks up to genuinely demand respect either. She’s too soft-spoken, and a bit of a “doormat wife” – kowtowing to her husband who mercilessly flirts with younger women in front of her. Late in the film, she utters, “I don’t think Michael sees me as a photographer.” Honey, he doesn’t really see you, period. It’s a wonder they stayed together for so long – a story facet that seems perfectly set-up for her “a-ha moment,” but is left on the floor. There’s something wildly attractive about Coppola’s notion of taking time out to enjoy life’s little riches and beauty, but here, that thematic element seems to be battling the intrinsic nature of Anne’s character – who’s constantly, passively behind the lens of her high-end Leica, snapping photos of her Pintrest-y perspective.
All this said, it reminded me of when I took almost the same trip with my Aunt when I was in college, driving from Cannes to Paris. It made me pore over my photo albums from that trip and reminisce about falling asleep in the rental car (like Anne does). But, unlike this film, there were many more shenanigans (comedic, dramatic and whatnot) afoot.
PARIS CAN WAIT opens in limited release on May 12.