Julie Delpy strolling around the City of Lights for a carefully prescribed amount of time, exchanging stray thoughts and dry witticisms with a scruffy, sarcastic American guy—didn’t we already see this movie, and not too long ago at that? Yes and no, it turns out. Written and directed (and edited and scored) by Delpy, 2 Days in Paris plays something like a knowing riposte to Before Sunset (which she co-wrote), deliberately and gleefully bursting the romantic but solipsistic bubble that encased Jesse and Celine throughout both that film and its even cozier companion piece, Before Sunrise. Delpy has clearly absorbed a great deal of Richard Linklater’s sensibility, and she allows her movie a similarly shaggy, discursive freedom, trusting her characters enough to let them wander off on absurd tangents. But you can also sense her frustration at Sunset’s charming naïveté—in particular, at the way that its parrying lovers managed to move through Paris in complete solitude, unencumbered by family, friends, exes. Hers is a messier, less idyllic and altogether more crowded vision of Euro-ardor.
Right from the start, Marion (Delpy) and her boyfriend of two years, Jack (Adam Goldberg, also a Linklater vet—he played the motormouthed nerd in Dazed and Confused), are less than wholly sympathetic. New Yorkers who’ve just completed a whirlwind tour of Venice, they’re making a quick stop in Paris so that Jack can meet Marion’s family for the first time. We see them bicker about whether to travel by cab or by bus. We see Jack deliberately send an American tourist posse in the opposite direction of the Louvre, because he’s annoyed that they’re in France strictly to visit places mentioned in The Da Vinci Code. “You’re so mean,” Marion scolds, only to then purr, “You’re so right.” That’s the couple’s dynamic in a nutshell. When Jack greets Marion’s mom and dad—played by Delpy’s actual parents, Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy, both of whom are also professional actors—neither one can suppress a hearty Gallic chortle, as they’ve previously seen a photo of him stark naked with a helium balloon tied around his erect penis—a photo that Marion herself showed them. Also mean. Also right.
There’s a fine line, obviously, between endearingly neurotic and insufferably self-absorbed, but 2 Days in Paris manages to spend most of its time on the more pleasant side, while at the same time acknowledging Jack and Marion’s less amusing idiosyncrasies. Goldberg, whose specialty is a distinctively Jewish-American style of cynical, self-deprecating patter, gets off some terrifically funny lines, but the movie gets more comic mileage still from those moments in which poor, frustrated, increasingly paranoid Jack must stand by, silent and bewildered, while others talk in French, which he doesn’t speak. You can actually see him straining to catch chance words that might reveal a conversation’s import, especially when Marion is chatting with one of her apparently innumerable ex-boyfriends. And Marion, for her part, isn’t above dressing down someone who once treated her cruelly, even in the midst of a crowded restaurant. It turns out that Delpy, who’s usually sort of flaky-demure, possesses awe-inspiring reserves of self-righteous anger, ready to be unleashed at the slightest provocation. (We got a hint of this near the very end of Before Sunset, during the limo drive, but it really comes to the fore here.)
Had Delpy been content to make a light but ever-so-slightly abrasive comedy about cultural dislocation and romantic stasis, 2 Days in Paris might have been a minor classic. Alas, she also wants to say something deadly serious about the nature of long-term relationships. Despite a few instances of random weirdness—most notably Daniel Brühl (Good Bye Lenin!) making a bizarre cameo as a guardian angel/arsonist—the movie’s third act turns soggy and sour, relying on didactic voice-over narration to resolve, shakily, the artificial rift between the two lovers. Delpy has promise as a filmmaker, but she’s not Linklater just yet; this sort of abrupt tonal shift remains beyond her grasp for the moment, if only because these two characters are only bearable so long as they’re hilarious, which means so long as they’re fending off the intrusion of others. These are two people we don’t want to see in their own private Paris.
2 Days in Paris
Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, Marie Pillet, Albert Delpy
Directed by Julie Delpy