Like an installment in the The Trip series, but with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s comedy machismo one-upmanship replaced by constant flirtation, Paris Can Wait takes audiences on a food- and scenery-obsessed European tour. Here, our traveler is Anne (Diane Lane), the restless wife of a high-powered Hollywood producer (Alec Baldwin) who, after the film festival, abandons her in Cannes for work. Left to her own devices, she heads off to Paris with her husband’s occasional business partner, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), as her driver and guide.
Though Anne plans nothing more than to go straight to Paris, Jacques insists on numerous detours to show her the full beauty of the French countryside, with stops in Lyon and Vezelay, among other places. Paris Can Wait couldn’t be a better tourism advertisement, showing off everything from lavender blooms to the Institut Lumiere to the Musée des Tissus et des Arts décoratifs. And of course, there are the dishes. In addition to being a history buff and apparently having a lover in every wayside stop, Arnaud is a gourmand and oenophile, ordering piles of rich food and the best wine at every fine dining establishment he can cajole Anne into visiting. Anne is an amateur photographer with an eye for extreme close-ups of random things she comes across, and director Eleanor Coppola brings that sensibility to the film itself, constantly fixating on little details, immersing the viewer in high-class living.
Like Arnaud, this movie is all about the journey, not the destination. What plot there is exists to string together the visits to different tourist spots, and mostly concerns a constant will-they-or-won’t-they between the two leads. It’s blatantly obvious from the start that Arnaud has eyes on Anne, but he’s a consummate gentleman even as he not-at-all-subtly woos her on their trip. Anne considers the affair as part of a greater series of upheavals in her life—her daughter recently graduated from high school and is heading off to college; her small business folded; and her relationship with her husband is cordial but distant. She’s reluctant to deviate from the course of her life, represented by her continued insistence that they just get to Paris already, but other possibilities court her all along the way.
All of this would make for a much more memorable film if it created a greater investment in these characters. What sense we get of them mainly comes through expository speeches, with some backstory revelations (Anne had a baby who died at a few weeks old, Arnaud’s brother committed suicide) delivered with little build-up. Information isn’t the same thing as character development, and we more or less get everything there is to know about Anne and Arnaud from the first few minutes we spend with them. Anne is out of her depth in a foreign country and circumspect about her future, while Arnaud is a food nerd who really wants to get her into bed—little of that changes in the story, and our understanding of them barely shifts as well. Paris Can Wait may be a terrific vicarious vacation, but it’s an airless cinematic excursion.
Director: Eleanor Coppola
Writer: Eleanor Coppola
Starring: Diane Lane, Alec Baldwin, Arnaud Viard
Release Date: May 12, 2017