Archie Borders’ Under the Eiffel Tower is a functionally enjoyable film bookended by an opening and a conclusion both dogged by distrust in the audience’s reading comprehension. Excessive voiceovers spell out character motivations while listlessly establishing a plot so familiar it barely needs the set-up: Man loses his job. Man descends into funk. Man meets woman, falls in love, devotes himself to ascending said funk and winning her hand. Also, they’re in Paris. Fin.
Holding Under the Eiffel Tower’s sins against it, though, can be a half-hearted gesture. When the film actually works, it’s unexpectedly pleasant, “unexpectedly” because it gets off on the sourest foot possible, the “beset-upon white male” foot, with beleaguered Stuart (Matt Walsh) getting canned from a bourbon company in where else but Kentucky, unceremoniously and to his shocked outrage, as if there’s no possible, conceivable reason to let him go from a position he knows he’s sleepwalking through. If Borders, working off of a script from Judith Godrèche, means to comment on white guy entitlements, he instead gets dangerously close to endorsing them, offsetting that clarion call of macho privilege by making Stuart pathetic.
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation,” Stuart reflects in voiceover, misquoting Thoreau by about an inch but honest enough to own up to it. He’s definitely desperate. First, he pickles his interiors with the sample products from his previous employer littering his apartment. Then, his friends (Michaela Watkins, David Wain) invite him along on a family vacation to la Ville des Lumières, where he briefly loses his mind and proposes to their 20-something daughter, Rosalind (Dylan Gelula). Then he befriends Scottish football player Liam (Reid Scott), and takes an impulsive road trip (train trip, really) to French wine country, which is mostly an excuse to flirt with Louise (Godrèche, not only the film’s scribe but also its co-lead), who happens to manage a local vineyard.
Once Stuart, Louise and Liam, also vying for Louise’s affections, take over, Under the Eiffel Tower slips into a welcome groove, emulating in bits and pieces the likes of The Trip, Sideways and Outsourced. The film emulsifies into a smorgasbord of food porn, wine porn and rom-com tropes, which combine into fertile ground for Stuart to become an actual character instead of an indignant crackerjack. He knows his bourbon, so much so that he can bullshit his way through wine, too. He cooks. He paints. For a Walsh character, he’s surprisingly suave, not because the idea of Walsh playing suave is outlandish but because Walsh isn’t exactly known for playing Romeos.
Besides, Stuart is such a risible, contemptible mess when the audience meets him. After a rough start, travel brings out the good in him, a pleasant message in a global period of heightened insularity. Stepping outside your comfort zone, visiting new places and trying new things does wonders to open up the spirit. Under the Eiffel Tower doesn’t break new ground, but its pro-culture stance has a soothing, even absorbing effect, such that Stuart’s impromptu extended holiday feels like a holiday for the viewer, too. It’s easy. It’s relaxing. Walsh is warm and charming, Godrèche sharp and alluring. They’re a fun pair. Luxuriating in the glow they give off in each other’s company is a pleasure.
Not everything’s carefree, of course, or else there wouldn’t be a movie. Liam’s jealous of Stuart’s talent for courtship, Louise might be married to Gerard (Gary Cole), owner of the vineyard she works for, and try as he might Stuart can’t quite shake off the specter of his ill-advised proposal to Rosalind. (He’s also trying to buy the vineyard from Gerard without letting Judith in on the plan.) But Under the Eiffel Tower is sandwiched so tightly between a prologue that doesn’t care and an epilogue too worn out to stick the landing that it almost doesn’t get to be a movie at all. The lackadaisical structure baffles. C’est la vie.
Director: Archie Borders
Writers: Archie Borders, Judith Godrèche
Starring: Matt Walsh, Judith Godrèche, Reid Scott, Michaela Watkins, David Wain, Dylan Gelula, Gary Cole
Release Date: February 8, 2019
Boston-based culture writer Andy Crump has been writing about film and television online since 2009 (and music since 2018). You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.