28 year-old Quinn (Simon Helberg) is ready to reach the next stage of his life, even if he’s stuck with adolescent habits. When he goes to his ophthalmologist father (Alfred Molina) for a checkup, his mother is still making him egg salad (with tarragon) to bring home. He has a lousy job at a florist shop, tinkers away at jazz piano and is comfortably ensconced in a ten-year relationship with his high school sweetheart Devon (Melanie Lynskey). But eager to take their relationship to the next level (after some urging from his father, of course), Quinn decides he will propose to Devon. But before he can get the question out, his attractive co-worker Kelsey (Maggie Grace) declares she might be in love with him. Concerned about whether or not he’s confusing complacency with happiness, he pushes Devon away and is left to explore his options and feel sorry for himself. If any of this romantic or comedic to you, then perhaps you’ll enjoy “We’ll Never Have Paris.”
Written by Helberg, who co-directs with his wife Jocelyn Towne, this film requires so many leaps of faith and suspensions of disbelief that you might develop acrophobia. The first is that Devon or Kelsey would want to be involved with the guy, a sub-sub- Woody Allen-esque, manic ball of anxiety. Putting aside the fact that both women could do so much better without much trouble, it’s never made clear what Quinn brings to the table in his relationships, or what magnetic powers of attraction he possesses thats ensnared Kelsey. While Devon hold forth on Flaubert, Quinn only seems to knock her fashion sense while serving as an uneven intellectual partner in their relationship. And why Kelsey is drawn to him at all is a mystery, except that her ditzy, disorganized life is supposed to serve as a comic foil to Quinn’s various obsessions, and general discomfort in his own skin. Mostly, one is never sure why Devon or Kelsey want to deal with Quinn, who is ultimately shown to be a self-centered asshole.
The audience is supposed to find Quinn’s remorseful moping sympathetic or funny, no to mention his awkward attempts to sow his oats. But at every turn, his behavior is rooted in his own narcissism, rather than understanding the effect that his sudden surfacing of conflicting sexual and romantic feelings has on the woman he’s been with for a decade. Even worse, the few times the tremendously underwritten Devon does share her feelings, she’s ignored by Quinn, as his flailing desperation and outright begging is played for laughs and romance. And while Quinn blithely explores his desires, he denies Devon that same opportunity. When she heads to Paris to find herself and think about their relationship, he isn’t far behind, tracking her down supposedly in the name of love. And after indulging in brief but no less significant sexual dalliances during their “break,” he wants forgiveness, but then chastises her for the mere suggestion of a possible new romance. Quinn demands personal integrity from his girlfriend that he never demonstrates, and mostly proves throughout “We’ll Never Have Paris” that she deserves much better. And yet, the film hopes Quinn’s bumbling and increasingly pathetic demands for love and ultimately marriage will be perceived as endearing.
As you might guess, Quinn is extraordinarily unlikeable, but at least the rest of the cast make the proceedings barely tolerable. Even in a role that is far beneath her skills and intelligence, Lynskey shines, though you’d be best advised to watch her in the terrifically complex HBO series “Togetherness” which tackles relationship malaise with far more heart and humor. Grace offers a nice change of pace from roles in “Lost” and the “Taken” films, while the highlight might be Zachary Quinto as Jameson, Quinn’s rich, semi-douchebag friend, who dishes out advice while playing online poker and making mixed drinks in his parents’ ridiculously expensive New York apartment. And cinematographer Polly Morgan (“The Truth About Emanuel,” “The Pretty One“) makes the most of the Paris portion of the film with some lovely photography, at least when she’s not required to keep the camera fixed on Quinn’s face.
Indeed, “We’ll Never Have Paris” features Helberg in every frame of the movie from start to finish, and when the opening credits assure us this is “based on a true story, unfortunately” it’s not hard to imagine that the guy who wrote the movie presumably inspired it, putting himself as the focal point of the entire endeavour. It’s a revealing detail, one that sees both Helberg and Quinn unable or perhaps unwilling to see anybody’s viewpoint but their own. It’s simply not a perspective you’ll want to see ‘Paris’ from. [D]