Figuring out why the intelligent comedy Once in Paris . . . failed to score at the box office doesn’t take much work. After alienating fans by leaving the hit sitcom M*A*S*H in 1975 and then floundering through inconsequential TV projects, Wayne Rogers didn’t bring much goodwill to his first big-screen starring role. Leading lady Gayle Hunnicut wasn’t a major draw, either. And the folks tasked with selling the picture faced a daunting challenge: Despite containing a storyline about a sexual affair, Once in Paris . . . is primarily a bromance pairing Rogers with Gallic charmer Jack Lenoir. All in all, it’s amazing the picture got made. Nonetheless, those willing to accept the film on its own terms might enjoy what they discover.
Michael Moore (Rogers) is an American screenwriter summoned to Paris for a rewrite job. He’s met at the airport by chauffeur Jean-Paul (Lenoir), who personifies joie de vivre. To Jean-Paul, every traffic jam is an adventure, every beautiful woman is a miracle, and every new day is an opportunity for drinking and gambling and laughter. First Michael keeps Jean-Paul at arm’s length, opting to focus on work. But once it becomes clear the rewrite won’t take much effort, Michael accepts Jean-Paul’s invitation to see the real Paris: playing petanque in parks with old men, placing wagers at a horse track, visiting the restaurant that Jean-Paul’s mistress owns, and so on. Eventually, Michael’s new friendship creates problems. When the lonely screenwriter becomes preoccupied with Susan (Hunnicut), an aristocratic beauty staying in the same hotel, Michael heeds Jean-Paul’s advice to pursue a tryst, even though Michael has a wife and children back in Los Angeles. And so it goes from there.
Flaws plague this film. Michael is condescending, fragile, reckless, and self-involved, with retrograde attitudes toward women. Moreover, Susan is portrayed as a vapid slut despite Gilroy’s weak attempts at rounding out her characterization. By current cultural standards, Once in Paris . . . is offensive. Viewed through the prism of its time, however, the movie has personality and soulfulness, even if one suspects that Gilroy would have preferred Jack Lemmon in the lead rather than the bland Rogers. Finally, it’s worth noting that Gilroy notched a WGA Award nomination for his script, because his peers likely reacted to the film’s strongest element: the delightful rendering of Jean-Paul as an amiable rake whom a straightlaced family man might dream of someday befriending.
Once in Paris . . . : FUNKY