Tuesday, August 28, 2007

2 Days in Paris

Julie Delpy is the kind of star you feel as if you could be friends with if your paths ever crossed. She’s not too vain to let her classically beautiful face look tired, even a little doughy at times, and when she plays quick-witted, articulate, socially conscious women, like the one she reprised in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Waking Life, her own intelligence, humor, and moral outrage light them up from inside like the flame in a Halloween pumpkin.

The daughter of bohemian French actors who encouraged her creativity from an early age, Delpy has been writing screenplays since she was eight. She cowrote Linklater’s movies with the director and her costar, Ethan Hawke, and the three earned an Oscar nomination for their Sunset script. She’s also a musician (her music was featured in Before Sunset). So it’s hardly surprising that she wrote the screenplay and composed the soundtrack for 2 Days in Paris -- or that she directed and coproduced it.

But I wasn’t expecting it to be so funny.

2 Days sounds a lot like Before Sunset. Both are about an American man and a French woman, played by Delpy, who are in love and in Paris. The similarities are intentional – she thought she could raise more money for her movie if it sounded like a variation on her most recent hit – but they’re superficial.

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are elegiac romances. In both, the couple exists in a social vacuum and the dialogue between them is virtually the only action. 2 Days in Paris is a fast-moving, fast-talking comedy about dysfunctional relationships. It’s also about reaching the age -- and the point in a relationship -- where you’re ready to move past the starry-eyed stage and make a serious commitment.

Marion (Delpy), a Parisian now living in New York, is stopping off at home for a couple of days on her way back from a Venice vacation with her American boyfriend, Jack (played by Delpy’s ex, Adam Goldberg). It sounds like something out of a movie, but this film’s only interest in romantic clichés is to puncture them. Jack annoyed Marion in Venice by photographing absolutely everything. Now that they’re in Paris, it’s her turn to get on his nerves.

The two stay in the apartment Marion bought just above her parents’ place, spending most of the two days with her family and friends. Jack has never been here with her before, and he’s learning things that make him feel as if he doesn’t know her at all.

Marion and Jack are 35 and have been together for two years. That may seem a little late to be reaching this point in their relationship, but that’s part of what Delpy is getting at. “A lot of people say your 30s are like your 20s now, and I think that's actually true,” she told Salon. “We put work and career before family and relationships, and then you start thinking about the family stuff in your mid-30s. Which is really late.”

That may not be a totally original insight, but it’s a valid one. The same goes for the pronouncements made in the movie, which tend to run along the lines of “Taking pictures all the time turns you into an observer.” Unlike Linklater’s romances, which are about the thrill of connecting with a soulmate and which include a strong dose of philosophizing and talk about ethics and other big ideas, 2 Days in Paris is a comedy of manners that's studded with little gems of wry, observational wit, and permeated by the anarchic thrill of watching people indulge in wildly inappropriate behavior.

Marion, who Delpy says was inspired by Robert De Niro's Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, has what you might call an anger management problem. She’s constantly sparring with Jack, and she’s prone to picking serious fights with other people. In one wildly funny scene, she encounters an ex-boyfriend in a restaurant and attacks him like a rabid Rottweiler. The startling sight of this porcelain beauty lunging across a table to throttle her ex, toggling back and forth between apparent calm and homicidal rage, has the guffaw-inducing unpredictability of Harpo Marx’s sneak attacks.

The people Jack and Marion encounter in France – including her parents, who are played by Delpy’s real-life parents – talk about sex all the time. Yet Jack and Marion never quite manage to make love, partly because Marion just won’t stop talking, even when Jack tries to kiss her. “It’s like dating public television!” he complains.

To make matters worse, they keep running into Marion’s exes, who all come on to her as if Jack, who doesn’t speak French, simply weren’t there. Even more creepily persistent is a stalker on the subway. Jack tries to scare him off in a wonderfully funny little scene, glaring until he’s practically cross-eyed.

By the end of this compact 96-minute movie, we know the hypochondriac, somewhat paranoid Jack and the motor-mouth, rage-prone Marion well enough to like them in spite of their faults and root for their happy ending.

True, that ending feels a little tacked on. A couple other scenes don’t quite work either, like when Jack gets mistaken for a thief or Marion gets sick at a party. But that’s easy to forgive, since there’s always another laugh hard on the heels of a dud.

Besides, who could hold a grudge against a movie that leaves you feeling this full of life?

Written for TimeOFF

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