In 1991, Eleanor Coppola turned the interviews and footage she shot during the production of her husband Francis's film Apocalypse Now into the excellent documentary And she hasn't made a feature film since. Now, at the age of 80, she's returned to screens with Paris Can Wait, her first narrative movie, a romantic road trip loosely based on a similar trip she took through France.
Diane Lane is Anne Lockwood, wife of Michael Lockwood (Alec Baldwin.) He's a movie producer and together they're traveling through Europe on business. When an earache prevents her from getting on the private jet that will take them to their next destination, Michael's business associate Jacques (Arnaud Viard) offers to drive her from Cannes to Paris, insisting he'll get her there by that evening. Anne accepts.
But Jacques turns out to be the kind of guy who must stop at least once an hour to smoke, refill his vintage convertible's radiator, or just pop into a little roadside cafe that has the best cheese/wine/berries/anything in France. He will not let the possibility of delight pass them by because of her schedule.
At first Anne is annoyed by this, but eventually she gives in, even if she's the one who ends up paying for the food, and eventually hotel rooms, herself. (Jacques is conveniently without credit cards for the moment.)
Like a feminine version of The Trip or The Italian Trip, the film is definitely a lush journey, with beautiful landscapes and shot after glorious shot of French meals, from elaborate five course affairs to simple roadside picnics filled with wine and cheese. By the time the movie was over I was angry. Angry that I didn't have any wine and cheese to come home to! And I don't even drink wine!
What begins as a purely platonic trip turns into something with the potential for romance, even if Jacques isn't exactly the ideal match. Let's just say one of his many stops is not simply to sample the cuisine of that particular town.
Coppola's direction is solid if conventional, and the film probably has more in common with the works of her daughter Sofia than it does with her husband Francis. Much like Sofia's Lost in Translation, the story follows an unlikely pair as they make discoveries about themselves and their surroundings, and like that film, its success is heavily dependent on its two leads.
Diane Lane glows and is inherently likable, which helps since her character is one that could easily be seen as a nothing but a privileged, rich, white lady who hasn't earned the sympathy that is demanded from the audience. And Arnaud Viard is just charming enough; you can understand why someone would put up with his whims.
But unlike Lost in Translation, Paris Can Wait is stymied by conventional plotting, and a romance that never really gels. Anne is married, and while its revealed that her husband isn't exactly a saint, Anne never seems angry or dissatisfied enough to warrant any straying on her part. There's a romance in the movie because that's what this kind of movie demands. (Lifetime is, after all, one of the studios behind the film.)
It isn't until the very end that Coppola takes some real chances, with a cheeky shout-out to San Francisco's Swan's Oyster Depot and a playful break of the fourth wall that pays tribute to the Parisian filmmakers of the nouvelle vague. If she's able to make another movie, I hope she's given the freedom to dig a little further into the art school roots that show up with that last shot; conventional movies can wait.
Paris Can Wait opens in New York and LA on May 12th, and in San Francisco on May 19th.Hearts of Darkness.