After what seems like a lifetime observing the feature-filmmaking endeavors of her family members, Coppola tries her own hand at it with Paris Can Wait, a decidedly intimate piece of storytelling that contrasts quite nicely from the bolder and more dramatic features from the other members of the clan. Her approach is in keeping with her documentary roots, despite following a familiar rom-com blueprint.
Anne (Diane Lane) is the wife of Michael (Alec Baldwin), a successful film producer with the typical American determination to prioritize work. He’s loving, but constantly distracted — or maybe the problem is that he’s thoroughly committed to business and Anne is little more than his mistress.
Meanwhile, Anne lives what amounts to a solitary existence, albeit one ensconced in luxury. She passes the time taking pictures that zero in on the quiet, unassuming details around her. Anne seems stuck in limbo, unable to break free from the routines and known comforts that define the kind of person she believes she is.
But life intrudes when an extreme inner ear condition forces Anne to change plans and not take a chartered flight with Michael to Paris. She accepts a drive to the City of Lights with Michael’s producing partner Jacques (Arnaud Viard).
We immediately see that Jacques is a far more attentive man — he makes a detour just to pick up eardrops for Anne, along with a selection of bread and sausage for a snack. Michael notices the move and registers a tame jealous complaint, but forges ahead with his work plans, thus leaving Anne in the company of Jacques.
The title of the film is something Jacques says to Anne. He is a man for whom life is not worth living without sensual detours. He informs Anne early on that he stops every hour to stretch his legs and smoke, but it becomes clear that he’s interested in far more than circulation and nicotine. That makes it sound like Jacques is a typical Frenchman with an eye toward romantic conquest, which isn’t exactly true. He loves the experiential journey and if he reaches the expected destination, then all the better.
The impact of this philosophy on Anne is revelatory, and actress Lane lets us appreciate each and every moment of it. Anne speaks very little French, so she finds herself at the mercy of Jacques in every setting, whether in restaurants, hotels, or auto repair shops (yes, Jacque’s sophisticated little convertible breaks down at one point). Her discomfort fades over time as she starts to place more and more trust in Jacques, which is easy to imagine since he is the perfect guide. The man is an endless fount of information about food, the countryside, art and history, and his willingness to share his knowledge accentuates the pleasures of the moment. Watching Anne’s gradual blossoming under such warmth is a testament to both Lane’s charms and Coppola’s measured eye, which always places us in the right spot to see what is happening without feeling like we’re intruding.
It comes as no surprise that Jacques and Anne develop feelings for one another. The beauty of Paris Can Wait is that the story never rushes headlong, boxing itself into a corner. Coppola teases us with the intimacy that lives and breathes between these characters. Jacques is certainly a man devoted to enjoying the pleasures of life, but he’s no rude hedonist, which is obviously appealing to Anne. We sense that she is learning something meaningful about herself from him and this experience. It is rare that a film captures such internal workings in such an understated fashion.
Coppola seduces us, much like Jacques does Anne, with a memorable journey. Those who succumb to the modest whims of Paris Can Wait will not want it to end. (Opens Friday at area theaters.) (PG) Grade: A-