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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Film review: Paris Can Wait is heavy on the cheese and light on emotion

Eleanor Coppola’s movie is pleasant enough, but light on emotional engagement

Left to right: Alec Baldwin as Michael Lockwood and Diane Lane as Anne Lockwood and Arnaud Viard as Jacques Clement in "Paris Can Wait." Eric Caro / Sony Pictures Classics
Left to right: Alec Baldwin as Michael Lockwood and Diane Lane as Anne Lockwood and Arnaud Viard as Jacques Clement in "Paris Can Wait." Eric Caro / Sony Pictures Classics

If Laura Ashley curtains came in movie form, they would be Paris Can Wait. Eleanor Coppola’s debut in the realms of fictional cinema is “nice”. There is really nothing to dislike about the film, but then there’s nothing to really like either. Unless you’re a big fan of food photography, in which case you’ll love this celluloid coffee table book of, frequently cheese-themed, still lifes. The movie’s poster should probably give cheese top billing, as it certainly receives more screen time than Alec Baldwin.

Diane Lane’s Anne is caught in one of those marriages that have been around too long, with movie producer husband Michael (Baldwin). There’s no malice in the relationship – there’s no strong feelings about anything in this film, apart from cheese – but it’s grown stale. When Michael is pulled away from the Cannes Film Festival on a work emergency and Anne is unable to fly to her next stop in Paris due to an ear infection, Michael’s business associate Jacques (Arnaud Viard) offers to drive her, since he’s also heading to Paris. Jacques likes to stop every 42 minutes for a cigarette, and even more frequently for food, so what should be a few hours’ drive to Paris, becomes a two-day culinary road trip through the French countryside, interspersed with gentle humour and some very mild flirting.

And that’s the sum total of the movie. It’s clearly perfectly possible to make an engaging road movie – see Thelma & Louise. It’s even possible to make an engaging road movie based around food, European countryside, and benign conversation – see The Trip, and hopefully its soon to be released sequel The Trip to Spain.

All the characters are perfectly likeable, but in a “nice” way, so that we don’t so much care whether Anne and Michael will eventually manage a Paris reunion, or whether Jacques’s flirting will go further and put a spanner in the works. There’s a vague sense in which Anne realises that she’s been wasting her life rushing from meeting to meeting alongside her husband and learns to appreciate the value of stopping and enjoying the finer things in life. The fact she has her moment of realisation while sitting in a man’s passenger seat being lectured to, however, puts paid to any female empowerment subtext.

As for Jacques and those lectures, after an hour of his monologues glorifying fine grapes, foods and romance in finest “Hollywood Frenchman” fashion, you start to think about setting about him with a cheese knife, or at least blocking his mouth with a large chunk of Brie.

Coppola herself has stated she wanted to make a film without violence or sex, and she’s succeeded on that front. Unfortunately, she’s made a movie without much of anything else either. Like those roaring log fire TV screensavers beloved of metropolitan dinner parties, Paris Can Wait simply flickers away inoffensively in the background. It’s just there.

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