Julie Delpy has walked through the streets of Paris with an American suitor before, but this is a different kind of promenade entirely. Far from a remake of Richard Linklater's Before Sunset, 2 Days in Paris (Deux Jours à Paris), Delpy's full-length directional debut) is an updated, off-beat examination of relationships in the city of lights -- in a post-romantic era. Where Linklater prefers a heightened sentimentality in his films, Delpy eschews this sugar-coated idealism for a raunchier bare bones view of love.
The film begins with a shot of Marion (Delpy), an opinionated 30-something photographer, and Jack (Adam Goldberg), her hypochondriac boyfriend of 2 years, sleeping on a train (one of the only times the characters aren't engaged in deep conversation or accusation) leaving Venice for a two-day sojourn in Paris. Over the course of their visit, the love of these polar opposites is tested by Marion's quirky family, jealousy sparked by a procession of Marion's ex-lovers, some deceit, and the difficulty of truly knowing another person.
Within the first few minutes of the film, the distinct personalities of the main characters emerge. Jack is the embodiment of America's worst traits: self-absorbed, territorial, competitive, and overly paranoid of terrorism. He is redeemed only by his insouciant sense of humor, best seen when he misdirects a gaggle of Da Vinci "code breakers" wearing Bush/Cheney shirts and takes their place in the front of the taxi queue. Although Jack can irritate, the viewer gradually learns to empathize with him and his comedic attempts at forging the impossible cultural divide.
The yin to his neurotic yang, Marion is the personification of some of France's idiosyncrasies: opinionated, sexual, and oftentimes bellicose. Her best moments surface when she gives herself over to impulsive bursts of confrontation, whether she's admonishing a former lover for sleeping with 12-year-old prostitutes or a taxi driver for being a racist. Despite being a bit unhinged, Marion is the kind of character you can't take your eyes off of, the kind that carries a movie.
Initially, the casting of Jack seemed like a mistake, but Goldberg fits the shoes of his obnoxiously neurotic character perfectly. The chemistry between he and Delpy is undeniable and the acting of both comes across as effortless and assured. Their smart, snappy, and often loony repartee is so convincing and enjoyable that the viewer finds himself not wanting to miss a single word. At times, the fourth wall crumbles completely and it seems as though Delpy and Goldberg are these characters, living these lives. Another great acting duo (and casting decision) in the movie comes in the form of Marion's parents (Delpy's actual parents). The mother is an overemotional housewife with a Jim Morrison connection, while the father is a lively, sexually open gallery owner with a penchant for keying cars parked on the sidewalk. Both actors collectively steal the lunch scene with their impressive comedic timing and natural delivery, the father remarking on how sexy Henry Miller's work is with a mouth full of chewed rabbit head and the mother commenting on Jack's appearance, "With such a weird face, he better be smart."
What is most impressive about this dialogue-driven comedy of errors is the extent of Julie Delpy's involvement. Unsatisfied with simply playing the lead, Delpy managed to also write every line, direct each frame, produce and edit the movie, and conduct the score (during breaks from filming). And if this wasn't enough, she also lent her voice to the title song, a delicious ditty performed by the ethereally nostalgic Nouvelle Vague. Even with being everywhere at once, Delpy never lags in any department. Most shots look like postcards, the music captures the intended emotions, and the sharp writing resonates. Clearly more than just a pretty face, Delpy has proven herself as quite the movie making force.
As the lovely vistas of Paris and the hilariously absurd blunders of Marion and Jack fade into the black of the closing credits, one can't help but wonder what this woman, truly a Julie of all trades, will tackle next.
2 Days in Paris is out on DVD February 5, 2008.