At the age of 81, Eleanor Coppola makes her narrative feature directorial debut with "Paris Can Wait," a winsome tale of a road trip through the French countryside starring Diane Lane. Coppola, who previously directed shorts and documentaries, including "Hearts of Darkness," about the making of "Apocalypse Now," took inspiration from her own impromptu road trip from Cannes to Paris with a French associate while her husband Francis Ford Coppola traveled for work. The result is a film worth savoring; a celebration of food, wine and stopping to smell the roses.
Lane stars as Anne, the wife of an all-business film producer, Michael (Alec Baldwin). When an ear infection prevents her from flying to Budapest with him, she catches a ride with Jacques (French actor-director Arnaud Viard), an exceedingly charming Frenchman, a happy-go-lucky gourmand and raconteur who always takes the long way.
Anne doesn't know this when she hops into his vintage Peugeot, thinking she'll be in her Paris apartment by nightfall. But she discovers it along the way, as their trip stretches from several hours into two days, stopping to consume the best that their route has to offer — from fine wines to foraged dandelion greens.
"Paris Can Wait" falls into that category of films that delights in depicting the European lifestyle through rose-colored glasses (rosé goggles, if you will). The landscape and lifestyle are idyllic — all ancient Roman aqueducts and cathedrals and unique wines and lavish culinary delights. Even the simple things feel extravagant and the annoyances have silver linings. An episode of car trouble becomes a decadent roadside picnic in a scene that serves as the keystone of the film's thesis: Why worry when you can feast first? Paris can wait, after all.
There's an element of fantasy that pervades "Paris Can Wait," but it's a delicious fantasy, one that feels like easing into a warm bath. There's always a sense too that this magical world is fleeting as the miles tick by. The refreshing element is that the story resists normative fantasies of sex or romance — in "Paris Can Wait," Coppola focuses on the relationship to the self. The fantasy is in the time Anne spends reconnecting to her passions and drive, after many years of pouring energy into others.
Coppola's camera is trained on Anne as she experiences the world around her, snapping photos of the details she notices. It's important to note how Coppola deftly shifts the focus to the woman behind the great man and asks who she is, how she understands the world, what she cares about. It's fully her story and a rare perspective in film.
"Paris Can Wait" isn't just a celebration of food and wine, or taking the time to enjoy the ride, it's also about the fateful connections we can make with other people, unlikely soul mates who enter your life for the briefest moments and leave lasting impressions. For Anne, Jacques' purpose at this moment in her life isn't just to help her slow down and look around, it's to remind her she's a special, creative individual, autonomous of her husband or children, with a point of view worth sharing. That's the real lesson that one takes from the charming, soulful and wise "Paris Can Wait." It's quite the cinematic treat.
'Paris Can Wait'
Rated: PG for thematic elements, smoking and some language.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Landmark, West L.A.; Arclight Hollywood