At Theatre N: The Unknown Girl

Adèle Haenel plays Jenny in The Unknown Girl. Photo courtesy of Sundance Selects

Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have been quietly impressing European audiences and critics alike for the last 20 years with their observant cinematic dramas that champion the downtrodden and the outcast in society. Their work —which includes Rosetta (1999), L’Enfant (2005), Rust and Bone (2012), and Two Days, One Night (2015)—has garnered numerous awards at film festivals, including two Palme D’Or and a Grand Prix at Cannes. Yet, sadly, their talents are little known in the U.S., except to the ardent fans of Marion Cotillard (who has starred in several of their films).

The Dardennes, who write, direct, and produce their films, continue their neorealist exploration of modern European life with their latest, La fille inconnue (The Unknown Girl). Like most of the Dardennes’ oeuvre, this film doesn’t succeed because of its dynamic structure or rousing performances or directorial showmanship. Instead, it subtly, insistently drills down into the lives of its characters with an unflinching honesty and deliberate lack of distracting cinematic effects.

The Unknown Girl is a simple story. Jenny Davin (played by a winsome Adele Haenel) is a hard-working, earnest young physician. At the end of a long day of seeing her working-class patients, she refuses to open her door after hours to a troubled but unknown teenage girl. When that girl turns up dead the next morning, Jenny’s guilt and curiosity lead her on an obsessive quest to learn the identity of the girl and unravel the mystery of her final hours.

In true neorealist fashion, Jenny’s quest does not produce answers or a tidy resolution, but it does explore the dehumanizing realities of daily life for the down-and-out. The Unknown Girl is not a film for those seeking entertainment or escape, but it is a testament of the power of film to depict our shared, if sometimes disregarded, humanity.

Also at Theatre N in October: Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s classic in time for the sequel (10/5 only); Ingrid Goes West, uneasy comedy with Aubrey Plaza as the ultimate fangirl (10/13 weekend), and Tales of an Immoral Couple, a Mexican romantic comedy by Manolo Carol (10/27 weekend). For specific dates and times, visit theatren.org. 

Slick Spy Parody Showcases Elaborate Stunts

Nattily-dressed Taron Egerton is superspy "Eggsy" in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Photo Giles Keyte / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

*On the mark: This is Mark Fields’ 10-year anniversary as our film critic.

Julianne Moore’s unhinged villain highlights Kingsman sequel

The stalwart James Bond spy franchise has sparked several game attempts at parody over its 50-year dominance of worldwide box office numbers, though at times the series itself became cartoony enough to defy spoofs (I’m looking at you, Pierce Brosnan). But now that 007 has returned to a more serious tone with Daniel Craig as Bond and Sam Mendes in the director’s chair, it seems there is an opening for a rollicking take-off. In 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service was successful enough to prompt a sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Based on a comic book called The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, the two Kingsman films imagine a nattily dressed independent spy ring hidden beneath a Saville Row tailor shop. The first film showcased Colin Firth as a most unlikely superspy with Taron Egerton as his working-class protégé, Eggsy. Eggsy is back in The Golden Circle as a full-fledged and confident agent when the entire Kingsman network is inexplicably wiped out by a mysterious and ruthless foe. Eggsy eventually finds his way to the U.S. to link up with a parallel American secret spy group, Statesman, and they set out to defeat the threat.

But don’t make the mistake of taking any of this too seriously. The Golden Circle is played by its cast and its high-octane director, Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Stardust), purely for fun. And fun it is, from the outlandish and frenetic stunts to the elaborate production design to the tongue-in-cheek performances and finally to the extended and hilarious cameo of a certain flamboyant British rock pianist.

In addition to Firth (who drolly riffs on his prim cinematic image) and the affable Egerton, the cast also includes Mark Strong as the capable technician enabling the Brit field agents; a surprisingly dressed-down Halle Berry as his American counterpart; Channing Tatum; Pedro Pascal, and a number of other familiar faces, all obviously having a lark with this amusing trifle of a cinematic thriller. 

That said, the stand-out is Julianne Moore as Poppy, the nefarious drug lord behind all the mayhem. Her unexpected take on a spy supervillain is a thoroughly off-kilter cross between Goldfinger and Donna Reed (ponder that for a moment!).

The stunts are well-done and deliciously over the top, and the whole film is lushly eye-catching. Kingsman: The Golden Circle doesn’t aspire to much more than being wittily and thrillingly entertaining, but sometimes that just what the arch nemesis ordered.

Also appearing at nearby theaters in October: Blade Runner 2049, the long-awaited sequel to the sci-fi classic directed by Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve (10/6); Marshall, featuring Chadwick Boseman as the esteemed Supreme Court Justice in an early civil rights case (10/13); and Suburbicon, a George Clooney-directed thriller from a script by Coen Brothers (10/27).

Laugh at Logan Lucky, Just Don’t Think Too Long

Ocean’s 7-11? Soderbergh shifts gears to NASCAR heist film.

Director Steven Soderbergh knows his way around a good caper movie, having created the very successful rebooted Ocean’s series that has starred George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and a cast of popular actors.

With his latest film, Logan Lucky, Soderbergh transfers the criminal hijinks from the glitzy, ersatz-sophisticated environs of Las Vegas to the hard-scrabble, redneck epicenter of NASCAR: the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Although the laughs and thrills are maintained (thanks in no small part to Soderbergh’s winning cast), the translation is not entirely successful.
Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play the chronically unlucky Logan brothers, Jimmy and Clyde.

Jimmy was a star athlete in his youth, but an injury ended his promising career. His marriage to Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) also ended in disappointment. After being laid off his construction job at the Charlotte race track, he decides to pursue a reversal of his fortunes by planning a heist of the speedway’s daily receipts. Jimmy and Clyde assemble a ragtag team of accomplices (including Riley Keogh and an atypically cast Daniel Craig) whose skill sets are questionable at best. After this set-up, the rest of the film, as expected, is the playing out of the heist and its aftermath.

Neither the director nor screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (rumored to be a pseudonym for an as-yet unknown writer) seem able to decide whether they want to love their characters or condescend to them. At times, the brothers and their gang are portrayed as complete doofuses, yet we viewers are supposed to believe they are capable of this convoluted scheme.

Another disconcerting element is that all these Southern-fried characters are played by non-Southern actors, including Craig, a Brit. Are they all having a lark or mocking the accents and attitudes of the American South? It’s unclear. Finally, the plotting is neither completely coherent nor convincing. The success of the caper is way too dependent on unlikely circumstances that nearly always work out for these laid-back thieves.

I’m also troubled by the seeming lack of justification for the crime. For heist movies to work, we the audience have to believe that the targets of the crime somehow deserve their fate. We can set aside our consciences and cheer for the breaking of the law only if the perpetrators are karmically justified. I didn’t fully buy into their motivation.

Nevertheless, Logan Lucky is a lot of fun. The humor is loopy and offbeat, which can be pleasantly disarming. Setting aside the cornpone accents, the actors are all likable and easy to root for. Tatum draws on his substantial charisma to win our sympathy for Jimmy. While Driver seems to be channeling Tim Blake Nelson in his performance, the character’s quirks are still entertaining. Craig especially is delightful as explosives expert Joe Bang. His portrayal of Bond has become increasingly sullen and opaque of late, so it’s refreshing to see the actor having fun in a role.

The direction and scripting are also mockingly self-aware. At one point, the hillbilly thieves are referred to in a media story as Ocean’s 7-11, a sly reference to Soderbergh’s other caper films. The credits also announce the debut of a new cinematic talent: “and Introducing Daniel Craig!”

In the end, the machinations of the crime and the self-referential humor carry the day if you let the film wash over you as mindless entertainment. Just avoid the temptation to give it deeper thought.

Also appearing at your nearby Cineplex in September: Unlocked, a spy thriller starring Noomi Rapace and Toni Collette, directed by Michael Apted (9/1); It, featuring Bill Skarsgard as Stephen King’s killer clown (9/8); and Home Again, a rom-com showcasing Reese Witherspoon (9/8).

At Theatre N: From the Land of the Moon (Mal de Pierres)

French actress Marion Cotillard has been a fascinating cinematic presence since she first captured the attention of American filmgoers with her Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose in 2007. Since then, she has played a variety of emotionally resonant (and often slightly disturbed) roles in Inception, Midnight in Paris, Rust and Bone, Two Days, One Night, and even The Dark Knight Rises. Her greatest acting gift is her amazingly expressive face, which can be simultaneous deeply brooding yet luminous.

Director Nicole Garcia understands how to use Cotillard to her advantage in From the Land of the Moon (Mal de Pierres), and does so with a vengeance. Much of the footage in this melancholic film focuses on Cotillard: her face, her profile, even her back walking away from the camera. And we watch, fully absorbed. Unfortunately, there is not much more to this film than the 42-year-old actress.

Set in rural France in the 1950s, From the Land of the Moon tells the story of Gabrielle, a passionate, unstable woman struggling against the expectations of her family and of society. Forced into a marriage of convenience, she suffers both emotionally and physically until she is sent to a medical spa to be treated for kidney stones. There she meets a convalescing military officer, and a new world of love and desire open up for her. Of course, this being a film, that doesn’t mean life will become easier.

Overall, From the Land of the Moon feels drawn-out, even ponderous. And I couldn’t stop thinking that I had seen it before. That said, there are certainly worse ways to spend two hours than watching Marion Cotillard’s lovely, anguished face.

Also at Theatre N in September: The Trip to Spain, the latest culinary travelogue with British comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (9/1, 9/8 weekends); The Journey, a fictional account of the Irish conflict focusing on leaders from either side, featuring Timothy Spall and Colm Meaney (9/22 weekend).

Six-pack Cinema – and a Shot

City Themes

Six movies with urban settings—from east to west

Gangs of New York      (2002)

Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz lead a stellar cast in this gritty, vividly violent story of old New York. Set in the 1860s Five Points district of lower Manhattan—an area ruled by various clans and gangs—this Martin Scorsese film is still strikingly relevant today. Bill the Butcher (Day-Lewis) leads a gang whose malevolent intent is to prevent the entry of immigrants, preferably by force. Intensely directed and solidly acted.

Miami Blues    (1990)

Long before Alec Baldwin impersonated the President and hosted salacious game shows, he was often cast as a pretty yet rugged leading man. Miami Blues is definitely not one of those movies. In this dark comedy with criminal overtones, Baldwin plays an unrepentant con-man and thief devoid of any moral compass. When he overpowers the cop (Fred Ward) pursuing him—taking his gun, badge and false teeth—he sets off on a one-man crime spree. Baldwin is strangely charismatic in this rather ugly role.

Chicago     (2002)

A controversial Oscar winner (too lightweight, said the critics), this musical movie based on the Kander and Ebb Broadway hit re-creates the feverish, tawdry intensity of Jazz Age Chicago. Focused on two women (Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones) accused of murder and their publicity-hound attorney (Richard Gere), the film is an indictment of our obsession with celebrity, but it’s also a rollicking, tune-filled good time. In smaller yet crucial roles, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, and Christine Baranski are all as good as the movie’s stars.

Meet Me in St. Louis  (1944)

A more conventional, literally old-fashioned MGM movie musical, Meet Me in St. Louis is unabashedly sentimental and innocent. Following the lives of the Smith family in the days leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair, Vincent Minnelli’s well-crafted movie hits all the notes you want and expect from a vintage musical: romantic, sweet, wistful, melodramatic. The score, mostly by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin, includes the classic holiday song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” sung by a dew-eyed Judy Garland.

L.A. Confidential   (1987)

Based on a James Ellroy novel, this taut 1950s crime thriller helped launch the careers of its stars, Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe. The pair play very different kinds of cops (one earnest, one brutish) who eventually unite to face down the labyrinthine political corruption rampant in the City of Angels. The rat-a-tat screenplay by director Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland won an Oscar, as did the performance of Kim Basinger as a prostitute look-alike of Veronica Lake.

Sleepless in Seattle    (1993)

After the untimely death of his beloved wife, architect Sam (Tom Hanks) and his precocious 8-year-old son Jonah (Ross Malinger) head to Seattle to start over. But Sam is still sadly stuck in the past. Jonah calls a radio advice show, which starts a fateful process to bring Sam together with unfulfilled reporter Annie (Meg Ryan). Briskly directed by Norah Ephron (who also co-wrote the screenplay), this charming and funny film succeeds on the appeal of its two stars, who are only brought together at the very end. The movie also features a delightful score with vintage songs performed by a disparate group: Harry Connick, Dr. John, Jimmy Durante, Gene Autry and Carly Simon.

And a shot…

Their Finest   (2016)     Screening Aug. 11 – 13 at Theatre N.

Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, and Bill Nighy are three unlikely compatriots brought together during the London Blitz to make inspiring propaganda films to boost the spirits of the British public. Directed by Lone Scherfig, the film beautifully depicts the tense juxtaposition of daily life in the midst of imminent danger and loss. Both the war backdrop and the stiff-upper-lip British resolve are familiar cinematic tropes, but the story and character still resonate. For a full schedule and more information, go to theatren.com.

Finding the Human Drama Within the History

Detroit dramatizes 1960s riots, while Dunkirk fails to connect

Detroit

4 Stars

Director Kathryn Bigelow’s most recent films, Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, were both set during recent American-led military incursions (Afghanistan and Iraq). Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal effectively dramatized those conflicts by putting human faces and stories behind the familiar details from daily news reports.

She has done the same again with her newest film, Detroit, but the historical events that inspire this story can be found much closer to home: the racial conflicts that erupted into violence in many American cities in the late 1960s. Again, Bigelow masterfully humanizes a sad chapter in American history by giving us flesh-and-blood characters with whom to empathize.

Almost exactly 50 years ago, in July 1967, as tensions over racial injustice reached a boiling point in Michigan’s largest and largely racially-segregated city, a police raid on an illegal after-hours club resulted in several days of unrest known as The 12th Street Riot. Part of that riot was a controversial encounter between a group of mostly African-American young people and a rogue and demonstrably racist detail of city police and National Guardsmen at the Algiers Motel. When it was over, three black men were dead and the policemen involved were charged with murder, assault, and conspiracy. All those charged were eventually acquitted.

Bigelow brings that awful night to life in her gritty, powerful film. Like her earlier films, she captures the chaos of the rioting neighborhood. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and editor John Goldenberg heighten the agitation with jiggly hand-held camera work tightly focused on the terrified youth and their interaction with the on-edge police involved. The fear, and the stakes, are palpable.

The last act of Detroit, in which the incident is taken through a stultifying investigatory and legal process, feels flaccid and unfocused after the unrelenting tension of the film’s beginning.

The appealing cast is largely unknown but includes John Boyega (Star Wars The Force Awakens), Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War), Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black), and Will Poulter (The Maze Runner).

On reflection, I’m not sure the film would be as emotionally effective in a second viewing. Much of its power derives from the immediacy and unfortunate familiarity of the story. Nevertheless, Bigelow has again demonstrated an uncanny gift for breathing life into a little-known American tragedy.

The film depicts the evacuation of thousands of English and Allied forces in 1940.Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
The film depicts the evacuation of thousands of English and Allied forces in 1940. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Dunkirk

2 Stars

Writer-director Christopher Nolan has made some of the most inventive and engaging films of the last dozen years, including the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, and a personal favorite, a wicked period piece called The Prestige. So it’s understandable that a critic’s curiosity would be piqued when Nolan decides his next feature would be a war picture that depicts the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation during World War II.

Sadly, Nolan’s formidable gifts as a cinematic storyteller seem ill-suited to this particular subject. Dunkirk is a crushing disappointment of a film that completely fails to find the human drama in history that Bigelow did in Detroit. The plight of the characters, an indistinguishable group of young British and French soldiers, is sympathetic to the audience but they serve merely as human props in a movie more fixated on bombs exploding and ships sinking.

Dunkirk is further marred by dialogue that is fuzzed out to the point of being unintelligible and a Hans Zimmer musical score that is tense mostly because it is so interminably grating.

The only narrative innovation is in Nolan’s decision to tell the story in three different time sequences: one on land taking a week, the second a day at sea, and the last an hour in the air. This quirky concept works better than it sounds, and the disparate times do eventually converge at the climax of the film. But I would have been more impressed if I had been more engaged in the story throughout.

The Beguiled: Befuddling

Remake of Southern Gothic thriller is star-powered yet disappointing

When Sofia Coppola, the daring writer-director behind The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, and Marie Antoinette, decided to remake the 1971 Southern Gothic thriller The Beguiled, one would reasonably assume that she had something fresh to say with the story. I am sad to report that, despite a rather star-powered cast that includes Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, this pointless remount wastes that talent, as well as that of Ms. Coppola, in a beautifully photographed yet empty movie.

Set in a rural Virginia girls’ school in the waning days of the Civil War, The Beguiled focuses on a group of lonely, isolated, and understandably frightened women scratching out an existence amid desolation and constant peril. Into this feverish environment comes John McBurney (Farrell, in a role originated by Clint Eastwood), a badly wounded Union soldier who has fled the front lines, which are just miles away. The women take him in and tend to his injuries, mindful of the potential threat he represents to their cloistered community.

Indeed, McBurney’s very presence soon has an unsettling effect on the household. For the younger girls in the school, he is simply a curiosity. But the stern headmistress, Miss Farnsworth (Kidman), sees McBurney as the enemy, while also being compelled to display her ingrained Southern hospitality. For Edwina (Durst), the spinsterish teacher, the soldier represents a possible escape from her stultifying life. And for sexually-hungry teen Alicia (Fanning), he is an object of conquest. Needless to say, there are a lot of warring emotions and motivations at play.

The problem, from a cinematic perspective, is that all of this feels disappointingly rote. The female characters have no real interior lives; they are types designed to create an atmosphere of rivalry and suspicion. Similarly, there are no convincing nor consistent motives for McBurney’s actions either. The result is a story that merely goes through the motions, which detracts from the tension we as viewers are supposed to feel.

Coppola, who also wrote the screenplay, does herself and her film no favors with the torpid direction. The tense situations within the plantation house are interspersed with languid exterior shots, dripping with Spanish moss and a wispy blanket of Southern mist. It’s beautiful the first few times, but it quickly becomes almost laughable.

The entire film has a feeling of paint-by-numbers: This is what a Civil War thriller is supposed to look like; this is how repressed women are supposed to behave; this is how a recovering soldier would act in such a situation. As such, it fails to connect the viewer to the characters or the material.
The Beguiled, ultimately, is both airless and joyless, and a crushing disappointment given the talent involved.

Six-pack Cinema…And a Shot: Battle-Scarred

Six movies that explore the epic conflicts between women and men

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
This clever update of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew shifts the setting to high school. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the new kid, hopelessly smitten by his fair classmate Bianca. But her dad has decreed that Bianca cannot date until her challenging older sister Katarina (Julia Stiles) also has a boy. Enter the mysterious Patrick (Heath Ledger), who’s up for the task. Ledger and Stiles have delightful chemistry, and are backed up by a terrific supporting cast that includes Allison Janney and Larry Miller.

All of Me (1984)
The male-female conflict in this resonant romantic comedy magically takes place in the same body. Lily Tomlin plays an ailing rich woman who endeavors to have her still-strong spirit placed in a younger woman’s body. It accidentally ends up in her lawyer (Steve Martin) instead. Martin demonstrates his exceptional gift for physical comedy in this wacky yet touching story, directed by Carl Reiner. Richard Libertini does a wonderfully daft turn as the easily-distracted swami attempting the body transfer.

The Lion in Winter (1968)
Two great stage-and-screen actors of the 20th century—Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn—chew up the scenery in this chamber drama by William Goldman. O’Toole plays King Henry II of England re-united with his estranged wife and sons at Christmas time, 1183. Henry needs to designate a successor to his throne, and he and Eleanor have differing opinions about who that should be. A delirious war of words ensues. The film was nominated for seven Oscars and won three, including one for Hepburn.

Much Ado about Nothing (1993)
Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, married in real life at the time, play Benedick and Beatrice, two proud individuals hopelessly in love with each other, yet unwilling to admit their affections in this fairly faithful adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. Along the way, they discover that even verbal battles can wound. Briskly directed by Branagh and beautifully shot in sun-drenched Tuscany, this cerebral comedy is a treat for the ears and eyes. For another excellent variation on the theme, see Joss Whedon’s 2012 film.

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Three frustrated female friends—bewitchingly played by Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer—feel stifled in their seaside New England village and conjure up (quite literally) a man to fill the void they feel in their lives. Although the man, Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson), brings out some transcendent quality in each of them, it comes at a cost. They soon join forces to re-take control of their lives. Nicholson plays the role for which he was born—the Devil.

The War of the Roses (1989)
An ink-black comedy of manners, the titular war starts as a simple divorce proceeding between two equally dislikable and self-absorbed spouses (played by Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas). With neither willing to give up their showplace home, they gradually escalate the dispute, goaded by their unscrupulous attorneys, and destroy the house. Danny DeVito directs (and plays one of the lawyers), and wisely remains faithful to the novel by refusing to make either of the Roses overly sympathetic. The result is a two-hour cinematic car crash, from which the viewer is unable to look away.
And a shot…

The Lovers (2017) Screening July 7 – 9 at Theatre N.
In keeping with this month’s theme…Debra Winger and Tracy Letts portray a complacent married couple whose indifference to one another has provoked each into barely-hidden outside relationships. As they inevitably head toward divorce, an unexpected spark throws them into a tempestuous affair…with one another. Written and directed by Azazel Jacobs, this trenchantly observant comedy doesn’t pull its punches or follow any obvious rom-com path. For this critic, the midlife angst was worth it just to see Winger on screen again. For a full schedule and more information, go to theatren.com.

Alien: Covenant

Rhetorical question for Hollywood producers: how many times can you essentially make the same film over and over again before audiences stop giving you their money?

I saw the original Alien in 1979, and it remains one of the most terrifying moviegoing experiences I have ever had. Alien: Covenant is now the sixth return to that well, and the thrill is gone. Since the film is helmed by Ridley Scott, the director that started it all, the viewer hopes for the implied fresh take or a deeper exploration of the mythology, but those promises are left largely unfilled.

This iteration is too reminiscent of its forebears in terms of plotting, yet it lacks the original’s existential dread. Beyond the truly remarkable creature design (inspired by the art of H.R. Giger), what made Alien so effective was its carefully-paced, deliberate picking off of characters by a monster who was revealed slowly. All the subsequent films have become bigger and gorier and more effects-driven, without re-capturing the unrelenting terror of the first.

The only real interest in this version is the doppelganger androids, David (left over from Prometheus) and Walter, both played by Michael Fassbender. There is a curiosity factor as the newer model faces off against the older one, but even that appeal collapses in a plot step that a seasoned moviegoer could see coming up the Milky Way.

When one of the scariest movie monsters ever imagined fails to generate a thrill, I think it’s time to hang up the spacesuits.

Paris Travelogue

Awkward, slight romance takes backseat to bucolic France

In the midst of the relentless summer blockbusters about superheroes and aliens and pirates, the beleaguered film critic can be forgiven for seeking out a movie about normal adult humans having realistic interactions. Perhaps that’s what the team responsible for Paris Can Wait aspired to create, and maybe they even decided to up the appeal by making those humans movie-star attractive, then placing them against the gorgeous background of bucolic France. Unfortunately, it would appear this was the only reason for the film.

Anne (played by lovely, winsome Diane Lane) is a married woman at a crossroads in her life. Comfortable but unfulfilled in a long-term marriage to Michael (Alec Baldwin), a successful but neglectful movie producer, Anne is emotionally shut down, dreading the life ahead of her now that her daughter has left for college. She tags along on her husband’s business trips to romantic European locales, but it’s clear that the romance does not truly stir her.

Thanks to a convenient plot device, Anne is unable to fly to their next stop, and so Jacques (Arnaud Viard), a French movie colleague of Michael’s, offers to drive her from Cannes to Paris. Of course, being French, Jacques is a consummate roué and gourmand, with a lunch reservation and a liaison in every stop along the way. A day trip turns into several days, chock full of impromptu picnics, sumptuous meals in luxurious inns and restaurants, and serious talk about life, love and food.

The plot points of Paris Can Wait are predominantly predictable, creaky even. The screenplay makes no real effort to explain or justify various characters’ motivations. We’re meant to accept it on the surface, and ultimately, that’s what this film is really about: beautiful superficialities.

Directed and written by Eleanor Coppola, wife of Francis Ford Coppola, in her feature film debut, Paris Can Wait is essentially an exceeding handsome food and scenery tour. It’s pretty for the viewer to look at, and perhaps to wistfully aspire to such a bon vivant lifestyle. But we get no truly genuine glimpses into these characters’ interior lives. Even the teasing chemistry between the two leads is unconvincing and awkward.

Paris Can Wait is certainly appealing in a straightforward sensory way, but it has very little on its mind, and by the end of this culinary travelogue, I found myself regrettably longing for the more conventional summer movie pleasures of talking raccoons, menacing space bugs or a certain roguish sea captain. Sigh!