Romantic comedies live and die by their script. Action movies have flashy fight scenes and car chases, dramas can often side step dialogue for “emotional moments” that really just pan out to actors looking gassy, and sci-fi has spectacle. So, for a romantic comedy to stand out from the crowd, that script had best be TIIIIIIIIIIIGHT. Luckily for you, the script for Simon Helberg’s latest film, We’ll Never Have Paris, is masterful.
Helberg drafted We’ll Never Have Paris after a roller coaster of a proposal to his now-wife and co-director Jocelyn Towne. The pair’s real-life turmoil makes for incredible comedic fodder as Helberg puts himself on public trial. The honest characterizations, cringe-inducing authenticity, and sweetly delivered moments of genuine connection make the script wholly original.
The film follows Quinn (Helberg) as he attempts to propose to his long time girlfriend Devon (Melanie Lynskey). Some simple misunderstandings and an impromptu confession of love from his longtime friend Kelsey (Maggie Grace) cause Quinn to lose the love of his life as she retreats to Paris to clear her head. After a few attempts to “sow his wild oats”, Quinn realizes what he’s lost and soon gives chase to Devon in France.
The biggest risk the film takes is in its protagonist, Helberg’s character Quinn. The writer’s decision to not gloss over his idiotic, juvenile behavior when it comes to relationships makes him almost unlikable. It’s a rarity in film today for a movie to put forth a fully realized person as a protagonist. Usually the lead in a romantic film has their shit together and a deep, buried secret; at least that’s what Nicholas Sparks has taught me. The reality is that most people wear their eccentricities on their sleeve and Quinn does exactly that. Thanks to this honesty, the film feels like it has real stakes. You actually believe this couple may not end up together. It also doesn’t hurt that the cringe-inducing laughs he delivers through his behavior are genuinely funny and deserved.
The supporting cast shines in this film. Judith Light as Devon’s mom Jean and Alfred Molina as Quinn’s dad Terry add to the film as not only parental guidance figures, but excellent measurements of how far Quinn has to go to earn back his love. Maggie Grace is charming as the wrecking ball who you have to believe could make Quinn leave his girlfriend to pursue, but also slightly off enough to validate why he wouldn’t want to stay with her.
The highlight of this films ensemble, though, is easily one Zachary Quinto. Portraying the unhinged-yet-loving-and-supportive hipster best friend of Helberg’s Quinn, Quinto displays an uncanny ability to pull laughs from the tiniest movement or delivery. His willingness to commit to the characters quirkiness and be unabashedly goofy has made me completely rethink the actor.
Visually, Jocelyn and Simon managed to shoot Paris in a way that feels like you’re getting to explore the city and see a Paris not put on film. There are no gratuitous shots of the Arc de Triomphe or the Louvre, and only a single scene with the Eiffel Tower. The film is shot simply, in a style reminiscent of ’60s comedies, but smartly plays with space and claustrophobia to bring out Quinn’s characterization and emotion. This aesthetic sensibility, along with the dynamic jazz score and French pop soundtrack, make for a holistically enjoyable film.
This movie wins on the strength of Simon Helberg’s script and performance, but as it’s based on a true story, the entire project has more weight and depth than your standard romantic comedy. I highly recommend it for its superb cast, brilliantly told story and charming lead.
Rating: 4 out of 5 burritos