The Coppola clan is one of the few dynasties left in Hollywood, with every generation directly involved in the filmmaking business. With PARIS CAN WAIT, the 80-year-old Eleanor Coppola makes her narrative drama debut, following a career of acclaimed documentaries such as Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.
The plot is simplicity itself, with Anne (Diane Lane) visiting Cannes with her movie producer husband Michael (Alec Baldwin). His work keeps him at arm’s length, especially when he has to suddenly go to Budapest for work. Unable to follow due to an ear infection, Anne agrees to let business associate Jacques (Arnaud Viard) drive her to Paris. Yet what should be a 7 hour trip becomes a leisurely and frustrating foodie’s journey across country.
PARIS CAN WAIT mirrors the thematic core (and a number of the story details) of daughter Sofia’s Lost in Translation, yet is completely devoid of that film’s nuance or personality. In fact, it’s also a bit like Michael Winterbottom directing A Trip to Paris, but instead of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon doing Michael Caine impersonations, we have Lane and Viard approximating humans.
Writer/director Coppola assumes that audiences will want Anne and Jacques to get together, but neither of them is especially easy to like. Lane’s tin-eared performance happy snaps her way through a stranger in a strange land narrative, while Viard does few favours for the reputation of cliché of the freewheeling and smug French. Indeed, the handful of honest emotional moments they share take a literal turn off the beaten path, cramming in past secrets as if they were yet another meal.
It is only Michael’s absence that makes the possibility of this affair tangible. Despite what the publicity might indicate, Alec Baldwin quite literally phones in most of his performance from off-camera. This long-distance relationship is the permission the audience is given for cheering on the idea of an affair. The rest of the film seems to be saying, ‘Hey, it’s okay: this is France. It’s what we do.’
Given the high calibre of the star talent, and the international standing of the director, PARIS CAN WAIT is one big missed opportunity. A heavy use of convention aims to make this a crowd-pleaser, but it is also determined to rob itself of any personality along the way. If you love watching people eat cheese in pretty places, this might be the film for you. Everybody else can (and should) wait.