' ' Cinema Romantico: Paris Can Wait

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Paris Can Wait

I did not see “Paris Can Wait” in the theater. I saw it on an airplane on the way to Paris, which is appropriate, I guess, but also means that I missed out on the moment my girlfriend and our mutual friend experienced when they did see Eleanor Coppola’s movie in the theater – that is, a woman gasping at the appearance of an enormous cheese plate. It’s a funny story, and I dig anyone so into a movie that they gasp, and yet this anecdote is telling, like the fromage photography is more important to Coppola than character. That, of course, does not have to be a bad thing. Food can override character. Consider Luca Guadagnino’s “I Am Love” in which the culinary arts explicitly feed an erotic affair. Ah, but that’s crossing the arthouse rubicon and “Paris Can Wait” is strictly middlebrow, like a novel off the airport rack, which is why I am half-tempted to just forgo critical analysis and write this review from the perspective of a man watching a movie about Paris on his way to Paris. Alas, even in a Dreamliner pointed toward France, I felt less happy than morose watching this soggy cinematic soufflé, and do not tell me I am merely an artsy-fartsy snob who does not “like anything”. The lady sitting in front of me on the same flight watched “Paris Can Wait” too and when it ended she turned to her friend and gave Coppola’s rom com a literal thumb down. Sing it, sister!

Lane is Anne, the wife of Michael, an overworked Hollywood movie producer, played by Alec Baldwin with a deft touch, where he continually dangles sincere affection for his better half only to undercut it with nothing more than a caustic line reading or conceited facial expression. Lane, meanwhile, plays these early moments, where she and her husband are in the south of France for Cannes, about to depart for the French capital, true to the quick scene where we see her excised out of a paparazzi photo despite being pulled into it by Michael, an apparition in her own life. Armed with a series of wry facial expressions, Lane allows Anne to meet every expected complication her husband’s work provides not with any great anger or even weariness but a quiet kind of melancholy acceptance, like she has already seized on whatever Monica Vitti could never grasp in all those Antonioni movies and has now chosen to run out life’s clock.

It’s a rut she will have to escape, of course, and so she does when Jacques (Arnaud Viard), her husband’s business partner, is, after Michael is summoned to a faraway movie set, enlisted to drive Anne to Paris, a journey that should take a few hours but covers a few days as he continually stops, for a cigarette, for food, for a historical site, for the whole night. At each stop, both conversation and, even more so, gastronomic delight wait. Indeed, Coppola, as the aforementioned cheese tray gasp suggests, revels in the abundance of food, like a more pleasantly lit version of a Parts Unknown episode with a little less history. Why when their car breaks down midway through the voyage this turns out to be nothing more than a conduit to a riverside picnic.

Anne also winds up diagnosing the mechanical hiccup herself and re-sending them on her way, as if she doesn’t even need Jacques to help figure things out. Maybe that’s right. After all, he keeps asking for her credit card to fund their trip, assuring her of future reimbursement, though a late scene shows him getting flustered on a phone call about his finances. This moment, like the one in which he deflects about a past long-term relationship that went south, is just sort of glossed over, never followed up on, evoking a checkered past that ultimately yields nothing more than misdirection. And because it does, it makes you wonder why Coppola bothers with it in the first place. In fact, you wonder why she bothers with any backstory, all of which feels appended and arbitrary, like Anne’s big reveal which strains for tragedy but mostly feels out of place amidst all the gluttony. That is not to say emotion is irrelevant here, not at all, but it is best conveyed apart from plot.

Anne is introduced snapping photographs of food on her balcony. Later, when Jacques asks to see her photos, he marvels at how she chooses to focus on a few specific details of the photographed item in question rather than taking a wide view, allowing the observer to fill out the rest in his/her mind. And that is when “Paris Can Wait” is best, allowing for behavior and gesture amidst so much wining and dining, hinting but never telling, showing us just a little and leaving us to wonder. And if you think wining and dining alone cannot spark spiritual transformation, sir, you have never experienced a French cheese plate.

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