Closing out this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival in considerably polar opposite and lighter fashion than the opening film Hyena, We’ll Never Have Paris is co-directed and written by Simon Heldberg, most known for his role on TV’s The Big Bang Theory, and it proves a perfectly watchable and charming, if somewhat unmemorable, choice on which to end the festival.
The plot follows Quinn (Heldberg), a neurotic florist in his late ’20s who has been with the same woman for 10 years. Just as he decides to pop the question to girlfriend Devon (Melanie Lynskey), his co-worker Kelsey (Maggie Grace) professes her romantic feelings for him and he starts to have doubts about settling down after only being with one woman. Impulsively deciding to leave Devon for a more exciting life with Kelsey, he immediately regrets the decision and runs back to Devon but admits his interim infidelities. Extremely hurt, Devon goes off to Paris and Quinn is left pining after her, with only his friend Jameson (Zachary Quinto) to talk to and take advice from.
The film begins by telling us that “This is based on a true story. Unfortunately,” and what proceeds is a sitcom-esque series of relationship mishaps and mistakes, mostly perpetuated by our bumbling and narcissistic protagonist. Some of them are pretty effective for what they’re aiming to be, delivering some fittingly awkward encounters as Quinn struggles between following his heart and wanting to live life to the fullest. It tries its best from the outset to be like Woody Allen and every fibre of its being throughout stretches to capture the chatty narcissism and light-hearted charm of the incomparable director’s comedic work, namely Annie Hall. It doesn’t quite get to that level, not even close actually, and has a distinctive whiff of Diet Allen about it.
How much you connect to and believe in the film will largely come down to how sufferable you find the lead character as well as how much leeway you’re willing to give the various interactions. On paper Quinn is an unlikeable and selfish idiot who doesn’t deserve to be with the inexplicably loyal Devon and his repeated relationship faux pas sometimes seem forced rather than realistic in the way the “based on a true story” notice at the beginning suggests. It’s mostly down to the performances, then, by Heldberg and Lynskey that the film just about works. However fussy and stupid Quinn acts, Heldberg has an inherent likeability about him and to his credit he gives the role his all to sell it. Lynskey is laid back and charming, bringing the sense and sensibility to this mis-matched, on-off couple.
The same can’t be said for some of the supporting cast, not so much in their performances which are perfectly fine but how their characters are drawn. Grace is two-dimensional in the extreme, fulfilling the role of the good-looking girl who unaccountably becomes obsessed with a bumbling neurotic in a side plot that comes off as self-aggrandizing on behalf of Heldberg more than anything else. While Quinto’s best friend character Jameson simply makes no sense, a privileged know-it-all who appears to simply live off exotic vegetable drinks and doesn’t care when he loses $1000 when gambling online, merely there as a sounding board for Quinn’s complaints and ramblings. It’s a prime example of how the film features caricatures rather than actual fully fleshed characters.
We’ll Never Have Paris is a deeply flawed and entirely been-there-done-that romantic comedy, derivative of Woody Allen and a million other knowing films of years past. Nevertheless there is a charm, however, slight to it that makes it an affable watch. It’s just about enough to recommend it for fans of breezy rom-coms that thrive on amiability, even if it doesn’t tell us anything particularly new about men, women or the relationships between them.