An ode to food, France, film and flirtation, “Paris Can Wait” is a creamy but not entirely disposable bonbon of a movie.
At 81, writer-director Eleanor Coppola makes her narrative feature debut here, albeit with a film not nearly as incisive or rigorous as her documentary “Hearts of Darkness” (1991), about husband Francis Ford Coppola’s struggles to make “Apocalypse Now.”
Viewers will likely detect notes of loss and even anger in a movie about the wife of a big-shot movie producer who learns to embrace her own desires during an unexpected road trip.
The fact that the film’s lead character, Anne, is played by Diane Lane goes a long way toward explaining its appeal.
Having attended the Cannes Film Festival with her husband, Michael (played in a brief, amusing turn by Alec Baldwin), Anne is planning on a much-needed getaway for just the two of them in Paris. But an ear infection keeps her from flying, and she accepts the invitation of Michael’s friend and business associate, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), to travel by car.
What ensues is a journey that recalls the 1967 classic “Two for the Road” and the more recent comedy “The Trip,” as Jacques insists on slowing Anne down to show her the joys of eating, drinking, taking in the scenery and engaging in some harmless seduction.
“Paris Can Wait” is a handsome, Instagram-ready rom-com for a mature generation that might not photograph food as compulsively as Anne does but who will appreciate the pleasure that comes from digging into a warm croissant with butter and jam.
The film oozes unexamined privilege and airy, let-them-eat-cake vanity. Although Viard exerts an inescapable charm as a wily, attractive epicure, his character’s passive-aggressive bossiness begins to feel more than a little sexist — and creepy.
Coppola herself can be just as pushy and on-the-nose, making sure that when Cezanne or Manet are invoked, a shot of their work appears on-screen, and putting redundant dialogue in her characters’ mouths while showing us images of what they’re describing.
But as self-indulgent and banal as the food, wine and chitchat can feel, Lane infuses the film with her signature self-awareness and offhand glamour, from the way she moves in her perfectly neutral wardrobe to her more flustered responses to Jacques’ amorous attentions.
There are moments when Coppola’s autobiography gives way to outright nepotism: Her son-in-law’s band, Phoenix, is prominently featured on the soundtrack.
But during another interlude, when one of the characters brings up a lost son, the filmmaker’s real-life story echoes with genuine poignancy. (Coppola’s oldest son, Gian-Carlo, was killed in a speedboating accident in 1986 at age 22.)
“Paris Can Wait” is a modest, genteel piece of cinematic escapism, a silky testament to sensuality as impeccably tasteful as it is utterly undemanding.
To use Jacques and Anne’s own lexicon when they discuss the merits of youth and beauty: The movie isn’t as cheap as a Pop-Tart, but it’s also not quite a chocolate creme brulee.
One could accuse Coppola of merely making a guilty pleasure, but for the fact that she clearly believes in the cultivation of pleasure without guilt.