2 Days in Paris (Samuel Goldwyn Films), the feature directorial debut of actress and screenwriter Julie Delpy (who also edited and produced the film and composed much of the music), was all set to be the embarrassing vanity project of the year. It seemed as if Delpy was purposely shooting herself in the foot by crafting a setup so similar to the one Richard Linklater used in Before Sunset (which she also co-scripted along with Linklater and her co-star Ethan Hawke). Delpy must have known that a talky romantic comedy about a French girl and an American guy on a whirlwind trip to Paris would evoke inevitable comparisons with that tiny 77-minute gem of a love story (which, viewed again three years after its release, is even better than I remembered). 2 Days in Paris doesn’t quite meet the Before Sunset standard of intricate, subtle dialogue and sharp psychological insight—but then again, neither do many movies this side of Eric Rohmer. That this one is even bearable is a surprise; that it’s occasionally insightful and hilarious is a treat.
Marion (Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg) are a New York-based couple who have just reached that what’s-it-all-about two-year point in their relationship. Fresh from a tour of Venice, Italy, during which Jack was plagued by two common travel scourges—diarrhea and the compulsion to photograph everything in sight—they’ve planned a Parisian stopover to meet Marion’s family. After an awkward lunch at which her squabbling bohemian parents (Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet, Delpy’s real-life parents) serve Jack a whole stewed bunny and quiz him about American literature, the lovers bump into an ex of Marion’s who all but propositions her on the street.
Later, at a party, a suave sculptor named Matthieu (Adan Jodorowsky, son of great Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky) casually lets drop that he was the first man to give Marion an orgasm during intercourse. (These raunchy Gallic icebreakers become a running joke in the movie—I know the French are supposed to be more sexually frank than us Yanks, but are they really that keen on making us uncomfortable?) Soon Jack is stomping through the City of Lights in a rage, certain that his girlfriend has personally serviced le tout Paris.
Delpy has a better sense for dialogue than she does for plot. Jack and Marion’s back-and-forth nattering deftly shows us what keeps this couple together: a shared fear of true intimacy and a sick sense of humor. But she hasn’t yet mastered the trick of keeping the dialogue loose while the story stays tight, and even at 96 minutes, the film drags in spots. In one of the few gestures toward structure, the couple’s adventures are punctuated at regular intervals by encounters with outrageously nasty cabbies: a wife-beater, a sleazy pickup artist, and a scary xenophobe with whom Marion picks a righteous, if unsettling, fight. Julie Delpy has always done rage well; she’s beautiful when she’s angry, but you wouldn’t want to get on her bad side.
Delpy looks rounder and earthier than her usual on-screen self, less the ethereal Nouvelle Vague waif and more the disheveled, wisecracking hippie. Marion’s fun company but a dicey prospect as a girlfriend; she’s scattered, insensitive, short-tempered, and possibly quite promiscuous. Goldberg is funny as a health-obsessed nebbish, but he attacks the character with a standup comic’s intensity, threatening to wear out his welcome. It isn’t clear how much of the characters’ occasional unlikability is deliberate; after all, this is the story of a relationship in the process of going sour, so if both lovers grate on our nerves at times, we may just be experiencing the world through their eyes. But there’s a difference between flawed, complex characters and out-and-out jerks, and Delpy seems unsure of which she’s creating.
2 Days in Paris begins and ends with clumsy voice-over narration in which Delpy muses about the futility of serial romantic love. The voice-over in Annie Hall is the obvious precedent here, and Delpy’s blithe dither can resemble the young Diane Keaton’s (even as Goldberg evokes Woody Allen via Ben Stiller). There’s no conclusion as profound as “We need the eggs,” but there is a moment near the end when Marion, standing alone on a street corner, imagines what she and Jack might have looked like on a different, happier trip to Paris. It’s one of the most memorable images in the movie—and one of the few in which, for a few blessed seconds, no one’s saying a word.