SXSW Film Review: ‘We’ll Never Have Paris’

This semi-autobiographical romantic comedy feels like a monument to its hero's narcissism.


Simon Helberg, Maggie Grace, Melanie Lynskey, Jason Ritter, Alfred Molina, Zachary Quinto, Judith Light, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Dana Ivey, Meredith Hagner Fritz. (English, French dialogue)

The story may have been ripped from personal experience, but moments of truth — or, for that matter, hilarity — are few and far between in “We’ll Never Have Paris,” a sporadically amusing, more often grating romantic comedy based on the relationship of husband-and-wife directing duo Simon Helberg (“Big Bang Theory”) and Jocelyn Towne. With Helberg (who wrote the script) cast as a hopelessly neurotic, hopefully somewhat fictionalized version of himself, struggling to win back the girlfriend (Melanie Lynskey) he carelessly tossed aside, the film means to critique its hero’s narcissism but winds up feeling more like a monument to it. Helberg fans who have always wanted to see him in a feature-length sitcom, rejoice; others need not apply, though this slickly packaged affair does seem destined to please some theatrical crowds en route to home-format exposure.

A germophobic, hypochondriacal jazz pianist with a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, Quinn Berman (Helberg) has been conceived here as an improbable romantic lead in the Woody Allen vein — specifically, that what-planet-are-we-on version of Woody Allen prone to appearing opposite women conspicuously out of his league. To wit: Quinn’s longtime girlfriend is the lovely Devon (Lynskey), to whom he’s planning to pop the question, but he hesitates when he finds out that his hot blonde co-worker, Kelsey (Maggie Grace), has developed a serious crush on him — presumably because he’s sweet, sensitive and so different from all the good-looking jerks she’s used to dating.

Fueled by his momentary lust for Kelsey, and uncertain whether he’s ready to commit to the first and only woman he’s ever been with, Quinn somehow accidentally turns a marriage proposal into a break-up proposal, prompting Devon to angrily storm out. But when Quinn’s first attempt at a sexual encounter with his new g.f. goes comically awry — predictably enough, since Kelsey isn’t a character so much as a cliche on very attractive legs — he immediately realizes his mistake and frantically tries to woo Devon back. But she’s unreceptive to his amorous gestures, especially when she finds out about his quasi-infidelity, and insists they need time apart so that they can both find themselves before even thinking about getting back together.

As the title hints, Devon will head to the City of Lights and Quinn will quickly follow, yielding a few authentic moments of emotional reckoning and romantic indecision on Devon’s part that briefly suggest the film might be headed in a more thoughtful direction. Alas, this promising development is soon wrecked by tiresome farcical complications — involving a suave, handsome French violinist (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) competing for Devon’s affections — that couldn’t be more obviously calculated to turn Quinn’s humiliation into a repellent comic spectacle. To say that the film succeeds on that front would be an understatement. But even if Helberg’s screenplay can be appreciated for its handful of glibly funny one-liners and its warts-and-all self-portraiture, the result feels more like a uniquely cringe-inducing form of self-regard.

That “We’ll Never Have Paris” is based on a true story with a happy ending (Helberg and Towne have been married for six years) is reassuring, if ultimately irrelevant to the reality of what’s onscreen. As embodied by Helberg, looking here like a shrimpy, clean-scrubbed college kid, Quinn’s neuroses aren’t particularly funny, endearing or touching; the character sucks so much life and oxygen out of every interaction, and calls such desperate attention to his neediness and emotional immaturity in every frame, as to seem entirely unfit for any sort of long-term relationship.

It scarcely helps that the filmmakers have cast Helberg opposite Lynskey, one of the most winsome actors of her generation; you never really understand what drew Devon to Quinn in the first place, and by the time it’s all over, it seems nothing short of a partial lobotomy would induce her to go back to him. But having paused to acknowledge that Devon might actually have dreams, desires and aspirations of her own, “We’ll Never Have Paris” is more or less content to sweep them under the rug — and where the women in this movie are concerned, that’s still arguably better treatment than is given to Kelsey or Leah (Meredith Hagner Fitz), another of Quinn’s mystifyingly eager sexual partners.

Adding to the pic’s sitcomish tenor is the presence of Zachary Quinto as Quinn’s smooth best friend, who pops up in every other scene or so to dispense relationship advice and/or model a colorful new wardrobe item courtesy of costume designer Rebecca Luke. Other bright spots in the cast include Alfred Molina as Quinn’s encouraging father and Judith Light as Devon’s brittle mother, both of whom make too-cursory appearances. Location shooting in Paris helps to enliven a polished but straightforward tech package.

Popular on Variety

SXSW Film Review: 'We'll Never Have Paris'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight), March 10, 2014. Running time: 91 MIN.


A Dog-Eared Pictures and K5 Intl. presentation, in association with H3 Films, Bridge Finance Co., Bi Frost Pictures and e2b Capital, of a Bridge Finance Co., BiFrost Pictures production. (International sales: K5 Intl., Munich.) Produced by Katie Mustard, Robert Ogden Barnum. Executive producers, Daniel Wagner, Kevin Frakes, Zulfikar Guzelgun, Steffan Aumeller, Daniel Baur, Oliver Simon, Carrie Menke, Hollis Hill, Rodney Baty, Judd Rubin, Cassian Elwes, Marc Platt. Co-executive producer, Jared LeBoff.


Directed by Jocelyn Towne, Simon Helberg. Screenplay, Helberg. Camera (color), Polly Morgan; editor, Mollie Goldstein; music, Alexis & Sam; music supervisor, Joe Rudge; production designer, Alexandra Schaller; art director, Steven Phan; set decorators, Nadya Gurevich, Armann Ortega; costume designer, Rebecca Luke; sound, Will Masisak; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Steve "Major" Giammaria; stunt coordinator, Manny Siverio; line producer, Guillaume Dreyfus; assistant director, Eric Berkal; casting, Kathleen Chopin.


Simon Helberg, Maggie Grace, Melanie Lynskey, Jason Ritter, Alfred Molina, Zachary Quinto, Judith Light, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Dana Ivey, Meredith Hagner Fritz. (English, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” The once-and-always Greek was not just in San Sebastian to [...]

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

  • Jonathan Van NessLos Angeles Beautycon, Portrait

    Jonathan Van Ness Reveals HIV Diagnosis, Former Drug Addiction

    “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness is getting vulnerable in his new memoir “Over the Top.” In a preview of his book with the New York Times, Van Ness opened up about his early struggles with sex and drug addiction as well as his experience with sexual assault, revealing that he was abused by an older [...]

  • 4127_D022_00003_RC(l-r.) Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady

    Box Office: 'Downton Abbey' Dominating 'Ad Astra,' 'Rambo' With $31 Million Opening

    “Downton Abbey” is heading for a positively brilliant opening weekend after scoring $13.8 million in domestic ticket sales on Friday. If estimates hold, the feature film version of the popular British television show should take home approximately $31 million come Sunday, marking the biggest opening ever for distributor Focus Features and beating previous record holder [...]

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content