If you can’t land a lady, try the Paris Can Wait formula: Kidnap a married woman and take her on a scenic and culinary tour of France. She’ll go gaga – just like some fans of food films and travelogues will embrace this unconventional comedy-romance from Eleanor Coppola. But even if you swallow the odd but intriguing premise, you just might gag on the clunky dialogue, awkward pacing and uncomfortably subpar performance of Diane Lane.
Lane plays Anne, the wife of a successful but selfish American film producer, Michael. On a trip with him to Cannes, Anne experiences a minor health issue that makes flying to Paris with her hubby inadvisable. Enter Michael’s charismatic business associate, Jacques, who offers to drive Anne. A trip that should take just nine hours turns into a multi-day excursion stuffed with sightseeing and enough food to feed the entire film crew – not to mention the aforementioned kidnapping. Admittedly, it’s not a proper abduction but instead a series of lies and sneaky attempts to elongate the journey. Resistant at first, Anne slowly resigns herself to her predicament and, predictably, starts to fall for Jacques, all while learning to stop and smell les fleurs.
Though Coppola (wife of Francis) directed 1991’s Hearts ofDarkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse and a 2007 TV documentary, this is her narrative debut, and it shows. Her writing is uninspired and forced, as if she predicted the premise, scenery and food alone could carry the movie. Or maybe she thought the charms of Lane and well-known French actor Arnaud Viard (as Jacques) would be enough. She certainly couldn’t have thought Alec Baldwin (Michael) would add appeal, as his presence is tiny and mostly wasted. So, by the end, Anne and Jacques have traveled 500 miles but gone almost nowhere dramatically or comedically.
“I aspire to live up to what I heard George Roy Hill say at an interview he gave when we were both promoting a film a million years ago, and he said he makes films about innocence,” Lane told me at the recent Sarasota Film Festival. “The character is losing some of their innocence inevitably by the [end of the] story. And we do inevitably from our lives. And so I think that valuing that and feeling the preciousness of that and being able to keep it [is important] despite what appearances may say: ‘Gee, you’ve been around the block a few times.’ Oh, no, I feel like a virgin!”
Though Lane was speaking about her method for choosing roles in general, her comment seems appropriate for this film. We’re never too old to lose our innocence again, or, in a roundabout way, gain some of it back. And that is likely what Lane and Coppola were hoping audiences would take away from this movie. It was an honest effort but, ultimately, a bridge too far.
If you’re a lonely empty-nester longing for romance, like Anne, take a trip, find a fancy restaurant or have an affair with a Frenchman. As for the film, well, Paris Can Wait – for Netflix.