2 DAYS IN PARIS

R
Reviews

Julie Delpy's 2 Days in Paris, which she not only wrote, directed and stars in, but edited and wrote some music for, treats the idea of homecoming like a wound--just as with a scab one can't quite help picking at, the conflicted woman Delpy plays can't help coming back to Paris, the place where she falls into all of her old habits, no matter how destructive. It's a conundrum familiar to any who have left and returned to hometowns which now give rise to decidedly mixed emotions, and one that should endear the film to a number of viewers, though whether that number will be any greater than those who will be turned off by Delpy's antagonism toward romantic Paris clichés is anybody's guess.

Delpy plays Marion, a photographer in her 30s who has moved to New York, where she now lives with Jack, a 35-year-old interior decorator played with full-bore nervous intensity by Adam Goldberg in one of his better performances. At film's start, the two have arrived in Paris for a two-day breather between a Venetian vacation and returning to New York. In the meantime, they'll stay in Marion's apartment, which just happens to be upstairs in her parents' fusty and cramped old house. Given Jack's Woody Allen-esque hypochondria and sarcastic defensiveness, and combined with the overbearing and messy French-ness of Marion's parents, the film has the potential to be sort of a twee, Gallic Meet the Parents.

Fortunately for all parties involved, Delpy goes beyond the mere comedy of embarrassment, though to be sure there is plenty of that as well. An attempt by the two to have sex in her old bed misfires with a disastrously small condom, Marion's melodramatic mother walks in or begins wailing at inappropriate times, and her father--played with Falstaffian verve by Delpy's father Albert--does everything he can to make Jack as uncomfortable as possible. Further adding to Jack's discomfort is the fact that at seemingly every turn, Marion (who, upon arrival in Paris, is now paying suspiciously more attention to her appearance) runs into ex-lovers with whom she's still on good and strangely flirtatious terms. Somewhere between the show at Albert's gallery where he insists on pointing out to Jack every obscene detail in the paintings (there are a lot) and the party where one of Marion's most prominent exes announces his intention to come stay with them in New York, Jack snaps, and the relationship heads for dangerously troubled waters.

To say that 2 Days in Paris is not a romantic comedy is likely misleading, as it is definitely about romance (well, love and sex, at least) and it is absolutely a comedy, occasionally of the best kind. Delpy and Goldberg have an easy rapport that many leads in relationship-oriented films work much harder to establish, giving the comedic scenes an extra zip. From the early scenes on, it's vividly clear not just how familiar these two are with each other, but how they are perched at that two-year mark where the decision may soon have to be made about how serious the relationship needs to be. Delpy bravely gives herself a fairly unlikable character in Marion, a smart but also flighty and narcissistic opportunist with a deep bag of passive-aggressive tricks for avoiding serious confrontation.

But then, Paris itself comes off almost as badly as Marion. In what could be viewed as a sort of corrective to the more glossily romantic view of Paris promulgated by Richard Linklater with Delpy in Before Sunset--which shares this film's penchant for walking and talking, albeit about generally weightier topics--Delpy envisions the city as a crowded and cantankerous pit of racism, pretension and bad behavior. Its inhabitants are invariably ill-mannered and sneering, given to fits of prejudice (on more than one occasion, Goldberg is mistaken for an Arab, with bad consequences) that then evoke a violent reaction from Marion, in whom the city seems to bring out the worst. Delpy is hardly naïve about her character's new homeland (one very funny moment has Jack giving intentionally wrong directions to a group of American tourists wearing Bush t-shirts on a Da Vinci Code tour), but she is far from wanting to film a romantic boat ride down the Seine. "This is France!" as Marion yells at a racist cab driver at one point, and romantic it ain't.