What a waste of a half-dozen good meals.
With “Paris Can Wait,” the talented Eleanor Coppola (director of the brilliant documentary “Hearts of Darkness,” and yes, the wife of Francis Ford Coppola) makes her feature directorial debut at the age of 80.
The presentation is gorgeous. The actual meal is nothing but empty calories.
“Paris Can Wait” is Wealthy Empty Nester Porn — a light and frilly road-trip fantasy about a married, middle-aged woman who hops into a car with her husband’s business partner and embarks on a journey through the French countryside marked by detours to restaurants and museums, markets and gardens and meadows by the stream.
The only missing ingredients are truly likable lead characters and something approaching an involving storyline.
C’est dommage to see the wonderful and captivating Diane Lane stuck playing a not terribly sympathetic character we like a little bit less at the end of the movie than we did at the outset.
Lane plays Anne, who has been married for 20+ years to Michael (Alec Baldwin), a movie producer of considerable success, given the clout he appears to carry at the Cannes Film Festival. Like every other Work-Obsessed Husband in hundreds of other films, Michael is always on the phone, forever preoccupied with making deals, barely noticing his wife is in the room even as he calls her “baby” and feigns interest in her ear infection and her photography habit.
The plan is for Michael and Anne to fly together to Budapest, so Michael can clamp down on an over-budget film production — and then they’ll go to Paris for a long overdue vacation, just the two of them. But the aforementioned ear problems prevent Anne from getting on the private jet, so Michael zips off to Budapest after one of his producing partners, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), volunteers to personally drive Anne from the Cote d’Azur to Paris.
Cue about an hour’s worth of beautiful scenery; close-ups of cheese, escargot, lamb, chocolate and wines of all varieties — and a non-stop running commentary from Jacques, who is all too eager to share his knowledge of everything French. He’s one of those guys who is charming as all get-out over cocktails, and insufferable by the time you get to dessert.
At least that’s how Jacques came across to me. He’s a little bit of a creeper, trying to find excuses to touch Anne. He keeps borrowing her credit card because he has a cash flow problem. He’s a chain smoker who insists on stopping every hour, so he can stretch his legs and have a smoke and renew old acquaintances. And whether Jacques is talking about flowers or wine or food or the scenery or the art or his countrymen’s approach to marriage, he makes sure to let Anne know the French have the crude Americans beat every step of the way.
On top of all that, he nicknames her “Brulee,” as in Crème Brulee. Ugh.
Come on, Anne. If you’re thinking about a tryst with this guy, you HAVE to see he’s working you with a variation on the same routine he’s probably been using on other women for the last quarter-century.
As for Anne: OK, so her hubby is a workaholic. It’s possible — we don’t know for sure — he might have strayed at some point in their marriage. But Baldwin’s Michael is onscreen for such a brief time before turning into a voice on the other end of the phone, it’s hard to ascertain if he’s really a jerk or if Anne is just feeling restless because she has recently closed down her designer dress boutique, and their only daughter is off to college.
(Why is Anne even along for the business part of the trip? Why didn’t she just meet Michael in Paris? How many high-powered producers in the midst of multiple film productions overseas bring their spouses to Cannes and Budapest?)
Late in the film, after far too many close-ups of $752 dinners (we actually see the receipt for one dinner and that’s what it cost), and far too little exploration of who Anne and Jacques really are, the screenplay wedges in two tearjerker scenes, one for each character, in which they reveal a deep tragedy from their past. (One scene actually takes place in a church, just in case we’re missing the intent.)
In both cases, the actors do a beautiful job of telling stories that feel tacked on, as if the filmmakers suddenly realized they’ve been telling the First World Problem story of two self-involved characters on holiday from the real world.
Sony Pictures Classics presents a film written and directed by Eleanor Coppola. Rated PG (for thematic elements, smoking and some language). Running time: 92 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.