This slight romantic road comedy can be read as Eleanor Coppola’s revenge on her husband Francis, but must she include us among those she irritates? The director of “The Godfather” might be embarrassed by the suggestion raised by the ever-so-slightly autobiographical “Paris Can Wait” that his spouse could once have felt so neglected that she at least considered having an affair, but the pretty but pallid movie probably victimizes the audience more than it will him simply by being so vapid.
As the film begin at Cannes, producer Michael Lockwood (Alec Baldwin) and his wife Anne (Diane Ladd) are scheduled to go to Paris together for a vacation, but he’s called away to Budapest on business, and since she’s suffering an earache prefers not to fly there with him; she’ll go directly to Paris by train instead. When Michael’s partner Jacques Clement (Arnaud Viard) offers to drive her, she initially declines but eventually agrees.
There follows a slow road trip after Michael’s departure. Jacques, driving a seen-better-days Peugeot, stops every hour for a cigarette (adding water to the engine as well) and insists on introducing Anne to the sights—mostly Roman ruins–along the way. The upshot is that they must stop for the night and, since he’s a gourmand, they’ll enjoy a sumptuous meal at the hotel restaurant—over which, of course, they’ll talk. There is one interruption, when a woman Jacques seems to know very well stops by their table. Being French, you see, he’s obviously a lover not just of fine food and wine, but of female companionship as well, and Anne recognizes that he’s an incorrigible flirt, with a woman in every port, as it were—like the one who manages the museum in Lyon dedicated to the French pioneers of film, the Lumiere brothers, that they also visit.
As for Anne, she’s clearly a bit miffed with her husband, and let down that her daughter back home lets her know that she’s decided to spend the birthday she usually enjoys with her mom with her college friends instead. But she keeps up a brave front, devoting much of her time on the road to taking photos with her digital camera—not only of the sights and Jacques, but of the delicious dishes set before her at the restaurants the two patronize. The habit makes her seem a precursor of our selfie-obsessed generation, and gets her in trouble when they tour a tapestry museum, though smooth-talking Jacques resolves the mini-brouhaha. She does, however, show a bit of moxie when the Peugeot breaks down and she manages a temporary fix for a broken fan belt.
Inevitably Coppola tries to deepen the characters with a confessional moment for each—hers involves a child she lost, his the death of his brother. The little monologues are meant to touch us emotionally, but instead they come across as rote conventions out of a how-to-construct-a-screenplay handbook. So does the final sequence in Paris, which closes the picture with a cute “An Affair to Remember”-type nudge. Lane’s smile might be directed to the audience, but one suspects that Eleanor intends it as a message to her husband, too.
There are lovely things in “Paris Can Wait,” but most of them are visual. The locations are caressed by the camerawork of Crystel Fournier, who also trains her lens on the cheeses, chocolates and endless courses of the meals Anne and Jacques share with such delight that you might think the movie was intended for The Food Channel. In terms of characterization, however, the movie is a disappointment. Neither Anne nor Jacques represent much more than sketches—she of the elegant, bored wife, he of the slightly roguish Frenchman—and Baldwin’s producer is even worse, with his complaints about the director of a Moroccan shoot sounding like something out of a bad sitcom. The cast do what they can with the thin material, but there are certainly no challenges for any of them here. Indeed, there may be greater obstacles for some viewers in deciphering what Viard is saying, given his heavy accent.
We are left, therefore, with an attractive surface that has very little beneath it. The French cuisine the camera ogles in “Paris Can Wait” looks succulent, but the movie itself is a bland dish.