From its title on down, “Paris Can Wait” is about the pleasures of delayed gratification, a subject the movie’s director may know something about. Eleanor Coppola has spent much of her creative life in the shadows of other filmmakers in her family: husband Francis Ford Coppola, daughter Sofia, son Roman, even granddaughter Gia (“Palo Alto,” 2013).
Eleanor shot and co-directed (with Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper) the award-winning 1991 documentary “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” about the making of “Apocalypse Now,” and she has made a few shorts and behind-the-scenes videos for her husband and daughter. But “Paris Can Wait” is Coppola’s feature solo writing-directing debut, filmed in her 80th year. It would be cheering to report that it’s a great movie, but you can’t have everything.
Granted, 90 minutes in the company of Diane Lane while her character, Anne, a movie producer’s neglected wife, samples the cathedrals, chateux, and cuisine of back-road France sounds like a deal not to be turned down. The one thing Anne hesitates to sample is her partner on the journey, and you’ll probably understand why: Jacques (Arnaud Viard) is such a caricature of the sensuous, life-affirming Frenchman that he’s just about unbearable.
Why are these two on the road in the first place? “Paris Can Wait” strains to set up the situation: A Hollywood husband (Alec Baldwin, briefly seen and not doing much with the role) jets off to deal with problems on a film set, leaving Anne, who can’t fly due to an earache, to get from Cannes to Paris by car with the husband’s obliging business partner.
What should be a one-day trip gets stretched out as Jacques stops to smell every blessed rose from the Cote d’Azur to the capital. He takes Anne to see Roman aqueducts and movie museums in the middle of nowhere; he introduces her to escargot and the fine wines of Burgundy; when his car breaks down by a riverbank, he produces a picnic basket. He tells Anne things like “Ze vairy best food ees straight from ze garden — auzzentic, like you.” “Oh, brother,” says Anne after spending five minutes with the guy, and we’re way ahead of her.
Is Jacques actively trying to seduce Anne or is he just being, you know, French? If the character were more than a walking cliché, we might be tempted to care. Instead, “Paris Can Wait” serves comfortably and consciously as a love letter to its star, whom the director has known since Lane costarred in “Rumble Fish” and “The Outsiders” for Coppola’s husband in 1983.
The actress was 18 then. Now in her early 50s, she remains one of the most sanely attractive women in American cinema, an immensely appealing performer who manages to make an interesting character out of what, on paper, is a trite provincial dullard. Anne spits out that escargot and, in general, seems awfully prim for the wife of a Beverly Hills powerhouse. “Paris Can Wait” is supposed to be about a woman thawing in the Gallic warmth, but the sunlight comes from klieg lights while Lane provides her own patient, sentient glow.
It’s easy to empathize with where this movie’s coming from, though, even as it’s tempting to dismiss it as boutique vanity fare. Anne has a creative streak — she’s a dress designer and late-budding photographer — that goes unnoticed by everyone in her life, especially the husband who gets all the paparazzi attention. Like Eleanor Coppola, she has suffered family loss.
You realize “Paris Can Wait” may actually be a love letter from a filmmaker to herself when Jacques the cartoon Frenchman pooh-poohs his pretty young starlets as “pop-tarts” and assures the graceful and mature Anne, “You — you’re crème brûlée.”
PARIS CAN WAIT
Written and directed by Eleanor Coppola. Starring Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard, Alec Baldwin. At Kendall Square. 92 minutes. PG (thematic elements, smoking, some language, cheeky Frenchmen).Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.