French actress Julie Delpy, a blonde with perfect fox features, has spent her career kissing her way through Paris in a series of swoony, talky romances beloved by girls with brains. Now, she’s written and directed her own. And it’s smart, witty, and incisive about what happens after boy meets girl and the two start analyzing whether their love is strong enough for the long haul.
Delpy stars as Marion, a flirtatious French ex-pat now living in New York. At 35–an age which a barely made-up Delpy makes look ripe and glamorous–she’s racked up enough ex-boyfriends to give her current steady, Jack, a migraine. Jack (Adam Goldberg) hardly needs the help; he’s the kind of chittering neurotic who could have a lucrative career as a Woody Allen impersonator with just a pair of glasses and a shave. At first, Marion and Jack seem like another fraudulent Hollywood Odd Couple–her blithe, him frantic–but we quickly accept that these two krazy kids thrive on conflict. Vacationing through Italy and Paris, the only time they don’t argue is when they’re asleep in their train car. Jack takes out his aggressions on a herd of Da Vinci Code-clutching American tourists in Bush/Cheney shirts by giving them the wrong directions to the Louvre. At this, Marion capsulizes their dynamic: she’s momentarily incredulous and disgusted, then brushes off the rubes’ misery and perkily hails a cab. They belong together.
The first half of the film is charmingly mean-spirited comedy as Marion’s non-English speaking parents–played by Delpy’s real life mère and père–delight in poking fun at their daughter’s pet American. (It helps that she’d already given them a photo of Jack naked with balloons tied to his penis.) Every time the household erupts in shouting, Jack trembles that he’s done something wrong. Was his request to visit Jim Morrison’s grave shamefully cliché? No one clues him in that Marion’s mom once slept with The Lizard King, whose name is officially reptilian non grata around the dinner table.
But Delpy smartly shifts the story away from being a francophone Meet the Parents by sending the waveringly happy couple out to a cocktail party where every man acts like he’s seen Marion naked. And if most of them have, so what? What threatens to break them up turns out to be a stealth enemy: it’s not the loud conflicts but the silent non-fights, the moments people bite their lips and hold in their fears or worries or jealousies and tell white lies to avoid hurting the other’s feelings. Relationships aren’t imploded, they’re eroded.
2 Days in Paris is heavy with quirky montages and narration, but it’s restrained where it counts. It nails its characters–even Jack, who quickly tampers down from an Alvy Singer to an actual human being–and allows them to make mistakes while allowing us to understand why they thought flirting too much with strangers or picking that pointless fight was a good idea at the time. It’s a date film for couples who need a catalyst to hash out their issues, or the flick your best friend brings over when you’ve gotten into a spat with your man. (I saw it two weeks after a break-up accompanied by a different ex-boyfriend who jabbed me in the ribs every time he recognized a reason why we split.) Towards the end, Marion sits quietly across from Jack and wonders why love never seems to be anything more than some good times and a bad goodbye. It’s a question without an answer, but Delpy’s face speaks volumes about hope, dreams and disappointment.