Film & Television

‘Paris Can Wait’: Travels with Diane

Paris Can Wait is about a few surprising days in the otherwise predictable, if comfortable, life of Anne (Lane). Her successful film producer husband Michael (Alec Baldwin) takes too many business calls and takes her for granted. Rare bursts of affection are limited to references to her sweet, little ears and queries about where she packed his socks. The couple is scheduled to fly out of Cannes, but a persistent earache grounds Anne. She suggests taking the train and meeting him in Paris. But, his French business partner Jacques (Arnaud Viard) insists that he’ll drive her “avec plaisir, bien sur.” The day-long journey turns into two and then three as the accidental couple samples all that the Gallic countryside — and attitude — have to offer. Anne finds herself in a new place, and she … well … finds herself.

Does this sound vaguely familiar? I confess my desire to see Paris Can Wait was as much about Italy as it was about France. Like many optimistic fans, I was hoping to relive Under the Tuscan Sun.

In that earlier film, Lane starred as author Frances. Frances survives a particularly ugly divorce and ends up on an all-gay tour of Tuscany, thanks to her best friend, pregnant lesbian Patti (Sandra Oh). On a whim (or an impulse, or a flash of inspiration) Frances buys a picturesque but run-down villa, Bramasole. She dreams of building a happily ever after life there (the life that has somehow eluded her in the States), but has to struggle first with renovations, neighborly matchmaking, and a juicy but ill-fated love affair with a perfectly beautiful Italian man. In the end, she finds herself in a new place and … you guessed it … finds herself.

The similarities are rather obvious (and, let’s face it, rather marvelous). First of all, how refreshing to find a smart woman d’un certain âge as a romantic central figure in a mainstream movie. Both Anne and Frances deserve more than they’re settling for. And, in both films, Lane is unapologetically her real age. She is a gorgeous woman in her early 50s, still aware of and happy with her own sexuality. One of the many memorable scenes in Under the Tuscan Sun takes place after she has consummated her affair with the younger Marcello (the too suave to be true Raoul Bova). “I knew it! I knew it! I still got it! I got it!” she chants, jumping on the bed. In Paris Can Wait, Anne worries that Jacques has a romantic evening in mind when they check into a hotel for the night. But, her hesitation is not a concern about her age; it’s cultural. “Jacques,” she protests, “I’m not … French.”

Paris Can Wait, like Under the Tuscan Sun, is a glorious travelogue as well as a romantic diversion. The audience is treated to historic churches, Roman aqueducts, fields of lavender, and riverside picnics. And, speaking of picnics, Coppola’s new film takes “food porn” to a whole new level. Jacques insists that Anne try everything. Course after course of food and wine, followed by every chocolate item on the menu. Anne has lost her appetite for life and must reawaken it through lamb, croissants, artisanal cheese and sausage, even escargot. The metaphor is blatantly obvious. But the food? Ooh la la!

Unfortunately, the new film (which I assure you, I wanted to love as much for the director’s sake as the star’s), is fairly tepid stuff. There isn’t much of a story really. Anne is vaguely neglected, but not really to be pitied. She isn’t at any great crossroads. Her wit and warmth are much the same at the beginning of their journey as they are at its conclusion. Throughout, she takes pictures (mainly close-ups of the aforementioned food), and there is some dialogue about how good they are and that Michael doesn’t appreciate them. But, all in all, Anne doesn’t have the kind of awakening that these movies typically set up and pay off. You want to love her, and to some extent you do, but she remains two-dimensional.

Meanwhile, Jacques never quite gets past being one-dimensional. He is très charmant, but so stereotypically French at all times that he becomes très monotonous. His lines are trite. “Ze best food in ze world comes straight from ze garden.” “Let’s pretend we are in Manet’s ‘Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.’” Or the cringeworthy: “Those younger women are Pop-Tarts. You are chocolate crème brûlée.” Really. To add screenwriting insult to injury, he proceeds to use “Brûlée” as his constant nickname for Anne.

Under the Tuscan Sun also benefits from a large and colorful cast of secondary characters. Along with Frances’s bestie Patti, there is a motley crew of Polish construction workers, a pair of star-crossed lovers, a compassionate realtor, and a delicious if somewhat deranged diva who wants to live life as a Fellini film. In Paris Can Wait, there are a limited number of brief encounters with others (mainly ex-lovers of Jacques – did I mention he’s French?). But most of the movie takes place in his car or at restaurant tables. Both Anne and Jacques have secrets, but they are underwhelming once revealed and don’t really move the plot along.

After decades of being overshadowed by her genius husband and groundbreaking daughter, it’s wonderful that Eleanor Coppola wrote and directed her own film (and got to tell a story that, no doubt, the director felt passionate about). How much more wonderful if Paris Can Wait had turned out to be a masterpiece. Alas, it’s not. But, it’s a perfectly lovely way to spend an afternoon. It’s very much a woman’s fantasy (as I mentioned, there wasn’t a single man in attendance the day I saw it). Gorgeous scenery, the lovely Lane, and all that incredible French food.

I’ve often wondered how many women have booked a trip to Italy to look for their own Bramasole after watching Under the Tuscan Sun. If you see Paris Can Wait, you may not be in such a rush to visit France.

But, I guarantee you’ll be hungry.

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