'Paris Can Wait': Film Review | TIFF 2016

Remembrance of meals past.

Oldsters will enjoy watching Eleanor Coppola's slight but charming travelogue/food-a-thon about two middle-aged acquaintances at home, but it will challenge a resourceful distributor to get many of them out to theaters to see it.

Quite possibly, at 80, the oldest American director to ever make a debut dramatic feature, Eleanor Coppola serves up a sweet little divertissement with Paris Can Wait, a slight but charming travelogue/food-a-thon about two middle-aged acquaintances on a two-day road trip from Cannes to Paris. Making several scenic and mouth-watering stops along the way, the light-hearted tale is underscored by the possibility of an adulterous romance between Diane Lane’s married woman and Arnaud Viard’s ever-insinuating roué, but their main preoccupations are beautiful towns, fine local wines and fabulous meals. Oldsters will enjoy watching this at home, but it will challenge a resourceful distributor to get many of them out to theaters to see it.

Surrounded by a family of directors — husband Francis, children Sofia and Roman, granddaughter Gia — Eleanor is best known in her own right for the exceptional documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Journey, about her husband’s ordeal on Apocalypse Now. But this is her first feature, a “highly fictionalized” rendition of a trip she made some years back with a French friend of her husband.

With the 2015 Cannes Film Festival poster featuring Ingrid Bergman looming around town, big-time producer Michael Lockwood (Alec Baldwin) and his wife Anne (Diane Lane) prepare to hop on a private jet for Paris, from where he’ll then be off to Budapest and maybe Morocco to oversee a big shoot. Declining to fly due to an ear infection, Anne says she’ll happily take the train, but is instead convinced to hop a ride with Michael’s “business associate” Jacques (Viard), whom she knows a bit.

Possessed of a suspect old Peugeot convertible and a motor mouth, Jacques is endlessly affable and an almost picture-perfect cliché of an old-school Frenchman: He’s a snob about French food and wine, smokes a lot and can’t help but inject the possibility of l’amour into relations with any woman, even the wife of his friend.

From what we see at the outset, Anne and Michael seem to get along pretty well, although the latter is preoccupied with work and away a lot (surely some autobiographical parallels for Coppola there). Still, once Jacques has Anne all to himself, it’s clear he has no intention of confining himself to the simple role of chauffeur. First stop is Provence, where the lavender is in bloom and, as Jacques points out, “This is the best time of the year to eat young animals.”

So they splurge at a sumptuous hotel and restaurant that evening, even though good ol' Jacques doesn’t have the money to pay for any of it; Anne must foot the bill. There are more than a few moments when the film seems like a remembrance of great meals past, what with the lingering close-ups of fabulous local creations and Jacques reeling off the names of particularly fine wines, while they consume glass after glass.

And there are certainly specific locales that have to mean something so special to Coppola that she felt compelled to include them here, especially in Lyon, where the couple visit the Institute Lumiere (the birthplace of cinema), the fabric museum, the great city market and another fabulous restaurant; you practically expect the soundtrack to break out with a rendition of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.

Through it all, Jacques is constantly flirting, mostly in a mild, I’m-a-Frenchman-so-I-can’t-help-myself sort of way, and you never seriously suspect that, despite all the wine, Anne is going to fall for his routine. Still, she soaks in the attention and gets serious at times, especially when she recalls the death of her first-born when he was just a few weeks old.

But the director mostly keeps things buoyant and light-hearted, injecting mild comedy here and there (the highlight being Anne’s improvised method of replacing the car’s frayed drive belt with a stretch of women’s undergarment). As Anne’s mood is almost always agreeably mellow, sometimes you wish she were a little more challenging or at least teasing with Jacques; joshing him about all his typically French attitudes might have been good for a start.

But then this is not a film that pretends to want to go deeply into emotions, philosophy, realities of contemporary life or anything else of any weight; as it is for the two characters for two days, it’s an escape from real life, from anything consequential, a chance to delight in the pleasures that humans can take from what grows in the earth and from an amiable companion’s company.

Speaking of good company, Lane is pleasure throughout; her Anne is knowledgeable about many things but curious to know more, even if she doesn’t show signs of being analytical or deeply questioning. Viard’s Jacques is a throwback to the classic French roué of yore, always insinuating a sexual subtext even if he knows his chances are slim.

But the two actors must share the screen equally with what Coppola and cinematographer Crystel Fournier (Girlhood) puts in the frame with them, be they photogenic locations in central France or delectable morsels on a plate. It’s picturebook France, without any of its current problems, the way many people like to remember it or idealize it.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentation)
Production companies: Lifetime Films, American Zoetrope, Corner Piece Capital
Cast: Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard, Alec Baldwin
Director-screenwriter: Eleanor Coppola
Producers: Fred Roos, Eleanor Coppola
Executive producers: Lisa Hamilton Daly, Tanya Lopez, Rob Sharenow, Molly Thompson
Director of photography: Crystel Fournier
Production designer: Anne Seibel
Costume designer: Milena Canonaro
Editor: Glen Scantlebury
Music: Laura Karpman

Not rated, 92 minutes