Paris Can Wait (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)

Paris Can Wait ends with an unusual sequence that violates one of the most basic rules of cinema.

Anne (Diane Lane) is married to Michael (Alec Baldwin), a big shot movie producer who seems surgically attached to his phone. Their only daughter is now in college, and Anne recently closed her dress shop after her partner moved overseas. So she’s at loose ends, not sure what her future holds, as she accompanies her husband on a business trip in Europe.

What do movie characters do when they need to get their mojo back? They go on a road trip, of course. The opportunity arises in this case because Anne has an ear infection and can’t fly to Budapest with Michael, so she instead accepts the offer of Michael’s co-worker Jacques (Arnaud Viard) to drive with him to Paris. It’s only about seven hours away, but Jacques has no intention of doing things in an obvious or efficient manner. Instead, he takes Anne on a meandering journey lasting several days that takes them past some of the most photogenic parts of France, from shimmering fields of lavender to the Lumiere Museum in Lyon. They have a lot of wonderful meals and drink a lot of wonderful wine, so much so that Paris Can Wait sometimes threatens to slide into the category of food and scenery porn.

Fortunately Eleanor Coppola, directing her first feature film at age 80, never quite gives in to that temptation. It’s hard to avoid thinking of the story in autobiographical terms, as she is the widow of Frances Ford Coppola and no doubt has more than a little experience with putting herself on hold while tending to the needs of her children and husband. But even if you don’t buy the autobiographical connection, Paris Can Wait offers an interesting look at a long-time marriage that isn’t exactly coming apart, but isn’t functioning all that well either. While it would be easy to blame Michael for being obsessed with his work and ignoring his wife (and with pinching pennies, although he is obviously rich), in truth Anne bears some of the blame for allowing herself to become so diminished. If Michael has come to see her as more of a personal assistant than as his wife, maybe that’s partly because she has come to see herself that way.

Paris Can Wait is mostly a two-hander: Baldwin disappears from the screen after a few brief early scenes, and the other characters are mostly there to serve as plot coupons on Anne and Jacques’ road trip. That’s not a complaint, because Diane Lane is superb as always, and Arnaud Viard is also very good, although he’s stuck with a more stereotypical role. Jacques may be in the literal driver’s seat, but Anne is the one controlling their relationship, and she’s also the character who changes the most over the course of the movie.

Most of the changes that happen in Paris Can Wait are internal, indicated ever so delicately by Lane. The original title, Bonjour Anne (Hello Anne) is actually more fitting than Paris Can Wait, because the most important journey in this film is that of one woman’s coming back to herself and reclaiming what she has set aside while attending to the demands of being a wife and mother. Paris Can Wait ends with an unusual sequence that violates one of the most basic rules of cinema, indicating that an irreparable break with the past has occurred. Exactly how that break will manifest itself is left up to the viewer’s imagination, a choice in keeping with the restraint Coppola observes throughout this film. | Sarah Boslaugh

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