All genre pictures pander, serving up conventions and cliches that faithful horror, romance, comic book or “Furious” fans relish and devour like comfort food.
So why not a European travelogue about a lonely wife “seeing” France for the first time? And who better to star than Diane Lane, of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” an actress whose later career often features her as a woman ignored, looking to “get her groove back?”
Eleanor Coppola, wife of Francis, director of “Hearts of Darkness,” the classic “The Making of” documentary about her husband’s “Apocalypse Now,” wrote and directed “Paris Can Wait,” which shamelessly panders to women of a certain age, easy chair Travel Channel/Food Network addicts whose ears perk up at the mere mention of four magical words.
“France.” “Frenchmen.” “Wine.” “Chocolate.”
It’s a dithering little nothing of a movie which takes Lane, as the wife of a workaholic film producer husband (Alec Baldwin, wasted here) from the Cote d’azur home of the Cannes Film Festival, to Paris, a distance of some 900 kilometers, or about 565 miles.
Anne is in Cannes with husband Michael, and Michael’s ever-ringing cell-phone, for the Film Festival. She dutifully takes care of his little life details (packing, etc.) while he deals with incessant calls about his latest film project.
No, he’s not listening when she sighs at being left alone in one of the most romantic corners of Europe, or complains of an earache. So when he jets off to Budapest, she balks. She’ll meet him in Paris when he’s done putting out film fires.
But she cannot take the train. Oh no no no. Michael’s colleague Jacques (Arnaud Viard) will DRIVE her. He insists. And even though Michael blinks at this impulsive decision — “He is FRENCH, remember!” — he acquiesces.
“You’ll be there by dinner time!”
As that wouldn’t make for much of movie, dinner times come and go as Jacques leads Anne on the trip of a lifetime, making memories — and photographs — instead of deadlines, really diving into France with an expert, and flirtatious tour guide.
Jacques knows, seemingly, everybody. He has been everywhere, eaten every restaurant’s specialty, tasted every wine.
He’s a “You MUST try” this, “Let m show you” that guide — the best kind, because he knows “the best market in France,” “the best Roman aqueduct,” “the best roses,” “the best view.”
And seeing France takes time. None of which is open apparent to Anne. But when he grabs her luggage to toss into his car she gets her first clue. It’s an early ’70s Peugot 504 Cabriolet (convertible). Yes, he’s rich so it’s been restored. But no, you don’t make 565 mile road trips in that without a few…unscheduled stops.
Jacques needs to take a break from driving “every hour.”
“Forty-two minutes,” she corrects.
There’s a cigarette to be smoked, and a radiator to be refilled. He is French, and so, alas, is his car.
But as they drive, the chatter and detours evolve from the birthplace of Cinema (Place Lumiere, Lyon) and the cathedral where Richard the Lionheart took up the cross for the Third Crusade (Vezelay Abbey in Burgundy) to “Are you happy…Is he faithful…What makes you dance in the street?”
As the wines, cheeses, assorted dishes and mad parade of chocolate delights arrive in this swank eatery or that riverside picnic, romance fills the air.
Or would, if these two had even a hint of chemistry and this script was anything more than a wan, under-developed tease.
Coppola takes Jacques’ life-lessons a little too much to heart, and “Paris Can Wait” ambles along, 90 minutes that feel like 150. The sights are lovely, the sentiments adorable.
But there’s no spark to it, and far too little wit. Viard, a French actor-director, gives barely a hint of the rogue this charming/disarming rogue Jacques is meant to be. He runs into women he knows, who remember him fondly, at every turn. “A trip with Jacques,” one says, is to be savored. Don’t be in such a hurry to get to Paris.
Often Jacques is communicating with waiters, sommeliers, mechanics and old girlfriends in French, and we experience this as Anne (whom he nickames Brulee, after the French dessert) does. She is an American woman trapped in a foreign land with a take-charge French sexist, who orders for her, decides where they stop and picks out the hotels.
Which she can only counter with a raised eyebrow.
“Jacques, I am not French!”
Neither Jacques nor the film are overbearing. But for all the lovely, out-of-the-way sights, for all of Coppola’s and Viard’s (he’s a French actor/director) efforts, for all the reliable Lane’s charms, “Paris Can Wait” delivers too little on the promise of its alluring title.
Movies, life and love, Jacques says, “are like souffles — all about timing.” And Coppola’s is just…off. “Paris Can Wait” could have been a perfectly adorable wish-fulfillment fantasy for an over-40 audience. She just needed to wait until landing a more engaging leading man.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, smoking and some language
Cast: Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard ,Alec Baldwin
Credits: Written and directed by Eleanor Coppola. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Running time 1:32