A longtime friend in Los Angeles used to groan whenever I would gasp at each artfully designed course that arrived at our table in some fancy eatery. I was always mystified by his reaction, but after seeing Paris Can Wait, Eleanor Coppola's paean to French cuisine, I understand his point: It's just a meal, honey—get over it.
The filmmaker, wife of Francis Ford Coppola and mother of directors Sofia and Roman, long ago established herself as, if not exactly an artist in her own right, one in tandem with her family. With Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, she won an Emmy for the 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, about her husband's runaway production Apocalypse Now. Her memoirs Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now (1979) and Notes on a Life (2008) are candid, illuminating, and well written. This makes Paris Can Wait, her dramatic treatment of a culinary road trip through France she made with a charming colleague, all the more disappointing.
Coppola's heroine, Anne (Diane Lane), is the supportive spouse of a famous film producer (Alec Baldwin) who's just concluding business at the Cannes film festival and more focused on his bottom line than his wife's trim derriere. Suffering from an ear ailment, Anne declines to fly with him to Budapest, opting instead to drive to Paris with his affable business partner, Jacques (Arnaud Viard). But the Frenchman blithely turns her short trip into an extended jaunt through picturesque locations from Vézelay to Lyon, punctuated by sumptuous meals at acclaimed restaurants that are curiously empty (extras are expensive). Over dinner, Jacques woos Anne with the sort of smarmy badinage that expired with Maurice Chevalier and gives trendy gastro tourism a bad name. Anne parries his thrusts with an unconvincing modesty and photographs her expensive meals; he responds with the occasional grand gesture, like buying enough roses so that their car's backseat resembles a hearse.
There are more authentic films about life, love, and food—Babette's Feast (1989), Julie & Julia (2009), the Steve Coogan-Rob Brydon comedies The Trip (2010) and The Trip to Italy (2014). This is nothing but a vanity project, relying on the conceit that Anne has been unfairly languishing in her husband's shadow. Eleanor Coppola must have made many sacrifices for her husband's art, but with Paris Can Wait the sacrifice is all ours. v