Though straightforward and not without some technical impurities, not to mention a few trite romantic comedy tropes, Paris Can Wait has a creeping appeal that harbors layers of insight into the confounding complexities of long-term relationships and the charms of falling into new ones. Making her feature film debut after most notably presenting what a neurotic pain in the ass her husband was during the shooting of Apocalypse Now, Eleanor Coppola also seems to be getting something else out of her system about life in the shadows of a big time movie guy. That the results are so pleasantly bitter-sweet is not only revealing about the Coppola family but also insightful on a wider scale about relationships.
It’s fitting that the viewer first hears the title of the movie early on as background noise in a shot focused on a solitary Anne (Diane Lane) taking pictures of her food on a balcony overlooking the French Riviera at Cannes. She’s there with her husband Michael (Alec Baldwin), but she is a woman alone. Her husband is a big shot Hollywood producer at the famous film festival and on the phone doing business. Though he does tell her “I love you,” the casually worn priorities of a long marriage — in this case 20 years — have clearly taken its toll. Thus Anne is primed for seduction by Michael’s business partner, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), who offers to drive her to Paris while Michael flies to Morocco for business with plans to ultimately rendezvous with Anne for what was supposed to be a vacation in the City of Lights. We will never see Michael again except in voice messages, as Jacques winds up taking Anne on a road trip of wonderful food and sights while carefully, but mostly casually, trying to seduce her with seemingly well-intentioned questions like, “Are you happy?” Still, she is never ignorant of the women he meets on the side during their travels, captured in “candid moments” that will be none-too-subtle to the audience.
This movie could easily be written off as just another film pandering to older women’s fantasies were it not for some scattered revealing moments that come from deep lived-in experiences. There are many charms in this film, which was also written by the director. Coppola clearly is an extension of her family of filmmakers. The soundtrack is filled with music by Phoenix, whose singer is married to Coppola’s daughter filmmaker Sofia Coppola. The younger Coppola has also used their music on her movie soundtracks. The French band’s dreamy pop-rock songs are used to connect Anne to her daughter, who she says turned her on to the band. The songs are also used both diegetically and extra-diegetically and reflect the highs of the burgeoning idealistic connection between Anne and Jacques. After all, Phoenix are the creators of such songs as “Love Like a Sunset” (“Right where it starts and ends”). The Phoenix moments don’t appear until later in the film, too long after the heavy-handed and annoyingly breezy score of congas, flutes and cooing voices by composer Laura Karpman drown too much of the film in treacle that recalls the clichés of romantic comedies. This film deserves more Phoenix.
Speaking of the soundtrack, there are some odd choices of ambient noise that overtake conversations, including a sloppy moment early in the film at an airport that could have used more patience in capturing some better takes. However, Coppola makes a witty decision not to use subtitles on any of the French that is spoken, which puts the viewer in the shoes of Anne, who does not understand the language. It allows for some funny moments that reveal Jacques to be a bit double-faced about his translations, which are both sheltering and dubious. Even if you don’t understand the language, the implications in the performances are clear. Going even further into metaphor, it’s representative of the mysteries of this cross-cultural love story.
Paris Can Wait is also the first time Lane has worked with a Coppola since she appeared as the ethereal love interest of Rusty James in what I would argue is truly Francis Ford Coppola’s greatest movie of all time, Rumble Fish (My personal favorite film: ‘Rumble Fish;’ read my ode to Coppola’s underrated masterpiece in AFI). Lane remains radiant and irresistible, making Viard’s turn from casual seducer to efforts that are more acute and revealing of his own loneliness believable. Actually, Viard has the more subtle performance, playing with a humble clownishness (he’s a terrible driver) to a charmer who can naturally appeal to Anne’s love of food before ultimately turning to a sad loner struggling to find fulfillment in fleeting feelings. The film’s original title was “Bonjour Anne,” which gives credit to an unnamed addresser to Anne: Jacques. He comes across as more than a simple antagonist to Anne’s faithfulness. He’s a dynamic character reaching for human connection over a lifetime of regrets while embracing current moments, like finding edible plants on riverbanks that remind him of eating from his mother’s garden after his vintage Peugeot breaks down.
This is a film the rides several levels of tension between how people connect emotionally while never forgetting to include their private baggage. Coppola touches on details like the value of connection in sentimental objects like a rose gold Rolex Anne once gave Michael and the married couple’s shared obligation to their teenage daughter. Jacques is both benign and diabolical (as Michael reminds Anne in a phone message: “He’s French!”). The both beautiful and terrible thing about aging into love is that it remains as confounding as it does in youth. When Anne ask Jacques over one particularly lengthy dinner scene, “Love isn’t always fair. Why’s that?” He responds, “It will never make sense to me.” It’s his most honest moment. For even in the seemingly controlled hands of a man with lovers waiting to see him across France, he can still feel the pangs of a lack.
Paris Can Wait runs 92 minutes, is in English and French with NO SUBTITLES and is rated PG. It opens in our South Florida area on Friday, May 26 at the following theaters:
- AMC Aventura
- Brickell City Center
- Cinema Paradiso Hollywood
- Cinepolis Coconut Grove
- Cinemark Paradise
- Tower Theater
- Regal South Beach
- Merrick Park Landmark
For screenings in other cities across the U.S., visit the film’s website.