After 20 years of trying unsuccessfully to get her screenplays made, Julie Delpy finally got her chance to direct “2 Days in Paris” by tricking her financiers into thinking it was a romantic comedy about a French woman and an American man in Paris.
It’s actually the romance from hell — which makes it so much more interesting.
“2 Days in Paris” may seem familiar, with its manic, walking-and-talking rhythms reminiscent of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in the 1970s. But you never know where it’s going, which is one of the film’s greatest pleasures.
The other is the longtime actress’ way with dialogue — it’s raw and real, bitingly funny and blissfully unsentimental. She was, after all, nominated for an Oscar alongside Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater for writing “Before Sunset.” Here, she explores the complexities of male-female relationships again with a couple that’s at their make-or-break point after two years.
Delpy is radiantly lovely as Marion, a ditzy Parisian photographer who brings her longtime boyfriend, Jack (Adam Goldberg), a neurotic interior designer, home to see her parents for a couple of days on the way back to New York from a European vacation. (Delpy’s parents, actors Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy, play her mom and dad.)
Everything slowly, painfully goes wrong, from the way her cramped apartment smells to the language barrier that isolates Jack to the old boyfriends of Marion’s they run into, who serve as a simmering source of jealousy and insecurity.
Through small details in the things they say and the way they react to one another, you learn so much about these people in an incredibly short amount of time. Jack and Marion may feel like types you think you know — he’s freaked out about germs and his sexual performance, she’s blithely easygoing in nearly every situation — but they’re surprisingly well fleshed-out. Delpy wrote the role of Jack for Goldberg, an off-screen ex-boyfriend, and the two bounce off each other effortlessly.
After arriving by train (and purposely giving the wrong directions to a group of overfed American tourists), Jack follows Marion home to meet her wacky folks, Anna and Jeannot, who barely speak English and serve up a rabbit lunch that leaves Jack appalled. Then it’s off to a shocking exhibit at dad’s art gallery, followed by a party that makes Jack wonder just how many men in the room Marion has slept with.
Except for her blowup at a racist taxi driver, all these scenes play out with a deadpan absurdity. Clearly, Allen’s sense of humor is a source of inspiration here but Delpy also seems to draw just as much from Larry David and the straightforward, often cringe-inducing misery of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
The film can feel a bit scattered; it was shot in four weeks, often in guerrilla style, on the streets of Paris. But it is a grittier side of the city than you ordinarily see on screen, which is refreshing. Unlike “Paris Je T’aime,” it won’t inspire you to call your travel agent to book a trip anytime soon.