Where are the goddamned roles for Diane Lane? Since her career launched, with a starring role as a precocious 13-year-old American girl in Paris in 1979’s A Little Romance, Lane seems to have confounded casting directors: Is she the button-nosed embodiment of joie de vivre or the anarchist post-punk tempest of Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains (1982)?
Confusing the matter further, not only does she do both of those things equally well; that angelic face of hers also lends itself to the rom-com, where she has racked up notable appearances in Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) and Must Love Dogs (2005). Now, because she had the temerity to age past 40, Lane is frequently relegated to the wife-mother combo in films such as Man of Steel and Trumbo. That’s why the prospect of her return to a good role in a romantic comedy from Eleanor Coppola — Paris Can Wait — sounded so promising. There are never enough middle-aged actors leading comedies.
Unfortunately, the film — about a married woman who embarks on an impromptu and unexpectedly romantic road trip with a Frenchman — is a half-baked mess. The entire narrative plays out over a series of meals. Imagine The Trip meets Lost in Translation (Coppola’s daughter Sophia’s debut), but with stale dialogue and neither much romance nor comedy. If you enjoy sumptuous food photography, however, you’re in luck: Those Provençal meals get much screen time.
Anne (Lane), a retired dress-shop owner, and her film-producer husband, Michael (Alec Baldwin), are supposed to leave Cannes for Budapest, but she can’t fly because of an ear infection. Michael’s business partner, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), generously offers to drive her to Paris, where the couple will rendezvous. Coppola, whose own career was derailed by that of her husband, Frances, based this story — her narrative-feature debut — on her own experiences. And the film suffers for it. The story’s premise demands that Jacques chip away at Anne’s pristine exterior to expose her more vulnerable side (and vice versa), but Coppola annoyingly guards Anne, almost as though she’s conflicted about projecting any decipherable emotions or opinions onto a version of herself. And there’s no chance of comedy if Anne isn’t a multidimensional character.
“It’s the best time of the year to eat young animals,” says Jacques in one of the many, many dinner scenes in which — marking a stark contrast to Anne’s stingy husband — he orders nearly everything on the menu. What an awkward thing to say; it should be funny! But instead of seeing Anne take this in, she tilts her face downward, mutters something about carrots, and they meander on to the next meal.
Scattered amid these repasts, Anne is constantly calling her daughter, back home in California. At one point, the couple’s car breaks down. Jacques, in no hurry to get to Paris, lays out a roadside picnic, while Anne chats with the kid who tells her mom that the one-sentence description of her road trip “sounds boring.” Anne turns away and rattles off, “Oh, my god, you have no idea.” But neither do we. There’s absolutely no way to tell how Anne feels about Jacques, her husband, or the loss of her career. Worst of all, Lane is wasted here. In Coppola’s rush to zoom to the next bit of trivial dialogue or five-course meal, she also flies right by Lane and her character.