First, let's get the obvious out of the way: Writer-director Brad Hall probably wouldn't have gotten HBO to pick up and showcase his short film "Picture Paris" if it didn't star his wife, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who also headlines the pay channel's series "Veep," for which she just received a Golden Globe nomination. Nobody said life's fair. Get over it.
As for the film itself, it's a really nice idea, doing a 28-minute self-contained story, and at first blush the project has a nifty bittersweet quality to it, a bit like some of Woody Allen's recent movies. But without giving anything away, while I was with "Picture Paris" most of the way, I disliked the payoff enough to leave a nasty aftertaste.
That's too bad, since I'd actually like to see the pay services do more of this -- dabbling in short-form projects that might not cry out for a flight of episodes, or even possess the heft for a TV movie. In TV terms, "Picture Paris" (which premieres Dec. 17, and of course repeats a bunch of times thereafter) is almost like a haiku -- a throwback to the anthology series of the past, only with a comedic voice and gorgeous scenery.
As Hall explains in a Q&A on the film's website, "I like the compressed nature of the story telling. There aren’t any subplots, and the story is very compact. Because it’s only a half an hour long, the plot’s twists and turns fall all over each other, which is just a ton of fun." That's about half right.
Louis-Dreyfus plays a bored housewife who dreams of visiting Paris. When her son heads off to college, she's free to pursue her fantasy trip, though not everything (OK, very little) goes according to plan.
Narrated in French, the cast includes Rachael Harris, D.W. Moffett and Jeff Perry in small roles, but it's mostly Louis-Dreyfus' show, and she's such a gifted comedienne she can make the most out of thin material (including, I'd argue, "Veep"). And hey, at least the family got a nice vacation out of it, presumably.
Ultimately, for all the pretty pictures, the idea for "Picture Paris" no doubt looked better on paper than it does on screen. Still, let's hope the film leads to more experimentation of this sort, even if, in the particulars, it's pretty easy to forget "Paris."