Director: Eleanor Coppola
Starring: Diane Lane, Alec Baldwin, Arnaud Viard
Running time: 92 minutes
Verdict: Over-indulgent food romance
FOOD films are prone to flabbiness: it’s one of the pitfalls of the genre. For every deliciously disciplined Babette’s Feast (1987), there’s a tasteless, over-processed confection such as The Hundred Foot Journey (2014).
Paris Can Wait, directed by Eleanor Coppola (Sofia’s mother and Francis Ford’s wife), certainly didn’t count any calories.
Told from the perspective of an unapologetic Francophile, the romantic road movie simply gobbles up the French countryside — cuisine, art history, crumbling monuments, the lot.
The story begins at the Cannes Film Festival, an event Coppola, making her debut as a feature filmmaker at the age of 81, presumably knows well.
Anne (played by Diane Lane) and her self-absorbed movie producer husband Michael (Alec Baldwin) are planning to travel on to Paris to spend some quality time together. At the last minute, Michael announces he must reroute to Budapest to sort out a drama on a film he has shooting there.
When Anne decides to travel on to the City of Love alone, Michael’s French production partner offers her a lift with unseemly haste. Once Jacques (Arnaud Viard) has Anne in his ageing Peugeot convertible, he becomes her self-appointed tour guide, making unplanned detours to Roman aqueducts and even the Lumiere Bros museum.
But food is the man’s real passion. They haven’t even left Cannes before the incorrigible flirt begins his multiple course seduction — with simple melon and jambon de Bayonne.
Jacques’ love affair with French cuisine is meant to convey his Gallic sensuality (being American, Anne and Michael are in too much of a hurry to stop and smell the cheeses).
But by the time the two travellers have eaten their first proper meal together, Jacques’ food obsession is starting to look more like bourgeois self-indulgence.
When Anne says she can’t decide which item to choose, he orders the entire menu. Course after course arrives, each one complemented by a new bottle of wine. “Just eat what you want,” says Jacques after ordering four different chocolate desserts.
In this era of increased focus on sustainability, Jacques’ largesse doesn’t have the desired effect. The waste is pretty much unpalatable.
But accustomed as she is to an inattentive husband, Anne blossoms under Jacques’ avid gaze.
Lane is well cast in the central role. It’s a warm, subtle, credible performance. The character’s photography “hobby” also rings true. As does the scene in which she lights a candle for her son who died as an infant (Coppola lost her oldest child at the age of 22 in a speedboat accident).
And Viard succeeds in creating a character that is more man than sleaze-ball — which, in the circumstances, is no mean feat.
Paris Can Wait is more art-house food hall fare than artisanal bistro. But thanks to solid performances from its two leads, it damn near fills the spot.
Originally published as Paris Can Wait leaves a bad taste