When I heard about this film, I couldn’t wait to see it. I imagined a delightful romp through the French countryside, full of beautiful scenery, great food and wine, and fantastic acting. Unfortunately, very little of that came to fruition in this movie.
The screenplay was full of utterly unoriginal and predictable dialogue. [You know a film is in trouble when the audience can answer a character’s question from the back of the theater, sort of like you do with a bad sitcom] Worse yet were the stereotypes. I think they used every one in the book: The chain smoking but charming Frenchman with a girl in every port; the pretty but ignored wife who accedes to her husband’s every need, from pairing his socks to finding his pills; the 60’s music playing languorously in the background as their car speeds by lush lavender fields. If this film had been released in the 60’s, it might have had a chance. It might even have evoked a certain “je ne sais quoi.” But as a modern day look at life among the middle-aged bourgeoisie, it fell flat.
The lovely Diane Lane is a waste here as the not quite over-the-hill mother of an 18 year old daughter – with her flat shoes and slept-in hair – who blooms once she puts on a nice dress, drinks a glass of wine, and is smothered in attention by, what the French call, a “mec.” And really, who would believe that she had flown all over the world in private planes yet did not know a good Chateauneuf du Pap; or that she would be revolted by escargots? And how many times is Alec Baldwin going to play the role of the foppish chubby husband with a “demi-heart.” Even scenes of the glorious countryside and the mouthwatering dinners couldn’t save this film, especially after they were repeated ad nauseum.
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud Eleanor Coppola for having the guts and grit to make her narrative film directing debut at the age of 81. And I love the fact that the story is based loosely on her own experiences. But having read her 1979 memoir, Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now; and having seen Hearts of Darkness, which she co-directed and for which she won an Emmy, I can only wonder, what went wrong here? And where were the other members of her talented family during the process?
If I sound somewhat annoyed and disappointed, I am. I love France and have been going there since the age of eight. I love snails and smelly cheeses, crunchy French bread, rich red wines, and the endless lavender fields of Provence. This film didn’t do justice to any of those things. It simply felt worn, forced, and utterly out of touch. And if you don’t believe me, feel free to ask the man sitting next to me at the screening. Oh yeh, he snored through most of it!!
For more in the Tribeca Film Festival, go to the website.
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics