|Cast:||Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, Marie Pillet, Albert Delpy, Aleksia Landeau, Daniel Bruhl|
“Love is everything we have. See, the world around us has gone to shit, and all we have left is each other” – Lukas
Attempting to reinvigorate their two-year-old relationship, New York couple Marion (Julie Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg) try a European vacation. With both getting sick during the first leg, only two sunsets with Marion’s parents (played by Delpy’s real parents Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet, who are longtime actors) in her hometown of Paris remain in this somewhat fatalistic look at what could be the end for the dysfunctional couple.
Despite being a romantic comedy, Julie Delpy delivers a very unromanticized version of Paris, location once again failing to bring the disgruntled characters peace or any sense of something worth belonging to. What you are used to and where you are not only conflict, but determine behavioral patterns. Location certainly yields a sense of discovery, but with every environment bring out something they didn’t know about each other, Jack soon concedes he knows nothing at all about Marion.
The basic problem is Jack is jealous and Marion isn’t good at being honest with him. Marion can’t trust Jack to accept the truth, and Jack can’t respect a person he can’t trust. Both are anxious and more ignorant than they realize, not really considering the effects of their own actions on others. The culture clash brings out the difference in their personalities stemming from the norms of their society, but Delpy draws more on the past history and experience of the 35-year-olds than blanket statements and the usual cliches.
Marion is a bohemian photographer who grew up in an artistic family (her father did the art that’s displayed in the film) with hippie parents. Despite showing the family her latest picture of her boyfriend wearing only a balloon around his cock, it’s not so much that the French are more comfortable with their sexuality as she doesn’t like acting as if she’s never been with a former boyfriend. She prefers some middle ground, not the mad love then mad hate or complete indifference that leads to pretending the other no longer exists.
Jack is a Woody Allen type character, a very insecure, neurotic hypochondriac who sees sex everywhere. To an extent 2 Days in Paris is similar to the good Woody Allen and Diane Keaton comedies such as Annie Hall and Manhattan, but bespecled Marion’s personality also bares more resemblance to Woody than Diane, the primary difference between Marion and Jack being she’s open and free about sex where Jack is very inhibited. Jack has spent their vacation obsessing over some psychobabble about people being drawn to each other to the point you meet your neighbors on the other side of the earth, but with Marion meeting so many of her former boyfriends (most of whom still have the hots for her) he decrees, “I’m starting to believe there is a small world theory, but it just applies to your sex life.” Jack’s inability to speak French combined with Marion’s insistence on pausing an argument in French to clue him in that everything’s fine only to escalate the altercation the next second makes him skeptical of everything. That being said, Jack’s main problem is he can’t express himself in any language beyond seeming put upon (Goldberg’s specialty).
Delpy delivers a good character study, regularly inserting jokes that seem organic due to being brought about through the context of flushing out their differences and their inability to comprehend the levity of their misunderstanding or the effect of their self-centeredness. Though Jack is somewhat sarcastic, what’s funny to Delpy is the comedy within a heated situation. The more passionate a person is about something, the better chance they have of hitting on something that really gets to the heart of the matter or incisively points out the other’s ridiculousness. Usually there’s no one to see the humor, as the only audience is someone who is far more likely to be hurt by your remark, but in a film the comedy actually helps the audience to deal with the trials and tribulations that are being depicted.
Having spent much of the last two decades in the United States - including studying directing at NYU - after growing up in France, Delpy has a firm grasp of the satirical material to use against both countries. 2 Days in Paris isn’t similar to Sofia Coppola’s dreadful Lost in Translation, which comes across as if Sofia spent a week in Japan and pieced a lame May-December romance around snickering about everything she found amusing about a country and people she has no understanding of. Forget people who have actually been to Japan, just about everyone I know who simply follows an aspect of their culture, in my case this largely means their movies, wrestling and/or mixed martial arts TV shows, wasn’t surprised by anything they saw in Lost in Translation. Perhaps they thought it was funny the first time, but it wasn’t funny in the film because they’ve grown immune, and more importantly it was presented in the movie “as is” rather than incorporated into a legitimate sketch or dialogue. A lot of people think those holiday lawn decorations you have to pump air into all day are absurd, but simply turning a camera on them wouldn’t get a jolt out of any American because, even if they think they are tacky, they’ve seen enough of them around that they are no longer notable.
Julie Delpy’s script is soulful and reflective, bring a depth to her comedy that’s entirely absent from Sofia Coppola’s juvenile drivel. Delpy makes fun of France and USA, French, Americans, and whoever else happens to turn up, but she does so by melding an understanding of people’s true nature and characteristics with situations where all parties are wrong. Unlike Coppola, who pandered to uninitiated ethnocentrics, Delpy’s material is funny because we are familiar with it from real life. We can watch 2 Days in Paris and think of so many people we know, laugh at them as well as ourselves.
Atypical for movies, Delpy manages to capture the awkward tension between lovers that eventually drives people both to hysteria and to repeating the same hopeless disagreements. Both characters need reassurance, but in seeking it wind up enhancing the rift by falling back on their divisive platform. A key point of the film is whether you love or hate the world around you, you’ll never succeed with another person unless you can bring yourself to accept them for what they are. And in order to do that, you have to get past the truth rather than conceal it or attempt to ignore it by not speaking about it.
As in her contributions to the wonderful Before Sunset, Delpy works intelligent conversations on issues she’s concerned with into the script in a manner that doesn’t feel forced or digressive. 2 Days in Paris isn’t nearly as good as Before Sunrise or Before Sunset, lacking the charm, spontaneity, liveliness, and resonance of Richard Linklater’s masterpieces. For me, there was too much plot in 2 Days in Paris, as what I enjoy most about the Before films is their semi-random pontification. Given the same brief time frame basis, I would have preferred a broader focus for entertainment value, but Jack’s tight focus is entirely believable. In her defense, while remaining dialogue driven, Delpy is trying to do something much different, trading idealism and profundity for naturalistic comic realism.
Much of the difference between the Before films and 2 Days in Paris comes from her co-star. Ethan Hawke can bullshit like no other, and brings a well developed view of life to all Linklater’s films. Adam Goldberg brings the annoyance factor of being someone who is at odds with himself because the world is at odds with him. Unlike Hawke, his character would be uninteresting to converse with because he seems unable to identify why he likes or dislikes anything. He’s semi-cultured, watching Fritz Lang’s legendary M (which succeeds in scaring the outsider), selecting sunglasses based on their resemblance to Jean-Luc Godard’s, and knowing Rimbaud from Rambo. However, he purposely lacks the thoughtfulness and perspective that make Hawke’s characters so interesting. Jack is unimaginative, spending his life running from new experience. Despite his left leanings, he’s extremely conservative in that he’s so boxed into repetition of the norm he can’t do anything beyond gawk at anyone who lives differently. He’d surely get a kick out of those dance pads on the Japanese video games, at least until they became a staple in American arcades.
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