Paris Can Wait
by Matt Weiner
Have you seen the Coppola film about an unlikely star-crossed couple touring a foreign country? In Paris Can Wait, Eleanor Coppola, better known for her documentaries, writes and directs her first feature film.
Diane Lane plays Anne, the long-suffering wife and de facto personal assistant to a hard-driving producer husband Michael (Alec Baldwin, literally phoning most of his lines in). When Anne needs to get to Paris from Cannes, Michael’s business partner Jacques all too happily offers to drive.
Jacques has a spontaneous lust for life as well as an endless appetite that turns a one-day drive into an unexpected long weekend in close quarters for the pair. Paris Can Wait has some very loud echoes of the meandering “stranger adrift in a strange land” in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.
But the comparison does Eleanor Coppola no favors, instead showing just how respectively undeveloped and soulless Anne and Jacques are. At least Bob Harris knows that his distinguished charm act is just another form of kabuki, whereas Jacques comes across as sincerely committed to his hedonistic shtick.
This by itself wouldn’t torpedo the film, given Arnaud Viard’s effortless bonhomie. But it’s impossible to ignore the complete lack of agency given to Anne up until the very last frame of film. Jacques’s disquisitions on food and wine, art and local history are far too boring to be as one-sided as they are. All their outings together are gorgeously filmed, but Jacques’s conversational M.O. is to recite the first two lines of Wikipedia on any and every subject that comes into his field of vision.
In return, Anne is supposed to derive value from being pelted with the encyclopedia every five minutes. Call it homme-splaining, and then also call the police to rescue Anne from her whimsical weekend of nonconsensual self-discovery.
It’s not that two strangers wandering around a foreign country and talking can’t work—Richard Linklater got a sublime trilogy out of it. But the whole of France isn’t scenic enough to make up for Jacques’s tour guide/hostage taker balancing act. Just how bad is it for Anne? If the film swapped out the soundtrack for tense horror strings, there’s not a single excursion with Jacques that couldn’t naturally segue to a scene of Anne lashed to a bed with both her legs broken.
And somehow the trip stirs up life-changing feelings for both characters. (To be fair, spending an entire weekend feeling like each new adventure is a prelude to a murder would probably change anybody’s outlook on life.) Anne and Jacques each get a last minute, pathos-drenched backstory. But the result is not only forced, it also weakens Lane’s last-ditch attempt to inject a flash of mischief and mystery into Anne’s final moments onscreen.
This makes Paris Can Wait tragedy, not comedy. If Lane is going to be typecast in this sort of role, at least allow her character to flourish. Instead we’re stuck with the Jacques tasting menu: course after course of attractive fluff whether you want it or not, and then someone else gets stuck with the bill.