I love big budget spectacle movies… or I love the idea of them anyway; recently I’ve been less impressed with the films themselves (but that’s neither here nor there). It is still nice though, as we head into summer with blockbuster after blockbuster, to stop and smell the flowers, and that is literally what happens in Eleanor Coppola’s “Paris Can Wait.”
Seriously, it literally happens – Diane Lane’s Anne Lockwood wants to get from Cannes to Paris quickly, but she’s being driven there by a business associate of her husband’s. The trip takes way longer than it should due to all the stops they make, and along the way there are lots of flowers for the smelling. See, it literally happens.
Because it is important to know, Google Maps indicates that you’re looking at something better than 8 hours driving between these two cities in France. That makes it a pretty good day’s drive, but just a day, not more. Starting after lunch, as Diane and Jacques (Arnaud Viard) do, it becomes more difficult to make it happen without stopping over. Then, if you’re like Jacques and enjoy a break every hour for a smoke and to stretch your legs, you can bet that you’re not going to make it in a day.
Of course, Jacques doesn’t really want it to take just a day, he wants to stop and eat and enjoy his time with Anne. Does he want more than to just enjoy his time with her? Should Anne’s husband, Michael (Alec Baldwin), be jealous? These are just some of the questions one will find themselves asking as they watch Coppola’s movie.
“Paris Can Wait” clocks in at a mere 92 minutes, but it makes the most of every moment that it has… like Jacques himself. It offers up a beautiful dichotomy between the gorgeous countryside/wondrous meals and the at times stilted and awkward conversation between Anne and Jacques. There is much to think about in the movie, in terms of personal dealings, familial interactions, as well as our relationships with food and the countryside and history.
Perhaps the movie is best described as a travelogue. We get to accompany Anne as Jacques takes her around, shows her around the country he loves so much, and they eat and drink well. Anne, an amateur photographer, chronicles the trip with her camera and we regularly get to see the world through her eyes via these photos.
I am, just a little, nibbling my way around the edges here and maybe it’s time to dig in, if only for a moment. If I one were to ask me (and if you’re reading this you’re kind of asking me) “what is ‘Paris Can Wait’ about,” I might say “longing.” At least, that’s what I have after thinking about it for the better part of a week.
Michael isn’t great to Anne. He’s work obsessed—he’s a movie producer—and too concerned with his own needs. Anne just wants a real vacation with her husband, not some work trip on which she tags along. Jacques offers her the exact vacation she wants, the exact thing she’s been after for years, but he’s not Michael. But still, it isn’t the trip she’s expected nor the one she thinks she wants, but this the trip she’s longed for; the one she needs (though, again, maybe not with Jacques).
Jacques just seems to long for someone he can impress with his love of food and wine and knowledge of French history. And as he sees it, it’s probably better for him to be impressing a woman.
As for the audience, we just long to see the miles unfold, the areas they visit, and to hear Jacques pontificate on it all. Oh, Jacques is something of an unsavory, slightly smarmy, guy, but he knows good food and good drink and just why the Romans built what they built in France. The man can tell a good story and Viard is wonderful in the role.
Lane, too, is tremendous. It really is her movie, we come at this whole thing from her perspective and she is able to deliver this conflicted woman in a way everyone will understand. There is still something vaguely dissatisfying about Jacques as person and the way he takes advantage of Anne, but Lane is able to show us why Anne might be tempted by such a fellow anyway. Like Anne, we are meant to reconsider what we see as the movie progresses and we can only do so because Lane makes us believe it.
Even so, without revealing the movie’s end and what happens between these three adults, there is something dissatisfying in it. It is a conclusion which remains unsold.
Perhaps, like every summer blockbuster, we’ll get some answers in the sequel.
photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics