If you're like me, you may feel there's no need to see the romantic comedy 2 Days in Paris, Julie Delpy's debut film as a writer/director. Or, more precisely, you may feel that you've already seen it. Delpy is, after all, best known for her roles in Richard Linklater's movies Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and at first glance 2 Days in Paris looks like an unofficial sequel to those charming, low-key offerings: similar characters (a French woman--Delpy, again--and American man--Adam Goldberg, inheriting the Ethan Hawke role) gabbing their way through a similarly fraught relationship in a similarly romantic European capital. It's easy to imagine that a third installment of this tale--especially one helmed by a rookie director--could be safely, perhaps even happily, missed.
But 2 Days in Paris isn't Act 3 of anything, and it ought not to be missed. Despite the superficial similarities, Delpy's film owes far less to Linklater's earnest meanderings than it does to the barbed, hysterical comedy of early Woody Allen. There are a few moments of narrative navel-gazing--in particular, the film's limply conceived conclusion--but, for most of its runtime, 2 Days in Paris is an absolute riot.
The movie opens with a simple conceit: Marion (Delpy) and Jack (Goldberg), who have been dating for two years and have just completed an Italian holiday, arrive in Paris for a two-day visit with her family before returning to New York. From the outset, the echoes of Allen ring clearly: Delpy is the slightly flaky, Keatonesque free spirit, often pursued by men and not infrequently caught; Goldberg is the neurotic, omniphobic hypochondriac. Of the innumerable actors who have tried to ape Allen's shtick, none, apart from perhaps Albert Brooks, have brought it off as neatly as Goldberg does here, though his variation on the theme is edgier and less morose.
The jokes, too, are equal parts fresh and familiar. Having just arrived in Paris, Jack quickly reduces the line at the train-station cab stand by sending a pack of tourists from the American heartland off with fake walking directions to the Louvre. But aren't they your compatriots? Marion asks. "My compatriots?" Jack replies, irritably. "They voted for Bush." It's a joke of such geocultural specificity that it's hard to believe its author didn't grow up on the Upper West Side. Moments later, we have a variation on the Allen standard about grandmothers raped by Cossacks, when their cabbie says he wants to listen to a radio show on battered wives because "I had two wives, and I beat them both."
When Marion and Jack arrive to see her parents--she has kept a small studio apartment just upstairs from theirs--the opportunities for cultural and linguistic friction increase exponentially. Her father (played by Delpy's real-life père, Albert Delpy) is an earthy degenerate who leers at young girls and stews a whole rabbit for their first meal together. (Offered a side of carrots, Jack notes acidly, "We're going to eat the bunny's food as well?") Her mother (Delpy mère, Marie Pillet), though also a former free-lover, exercises greater restraint--at least until an erotic confession midway through the film.
The movie's delineation of the differences between Americans and the French is not a particularly probing one: The former are tense, prudish, and prone to jealousy; the latter, open, promiscuous, and, as Allen might have remarked, polymorphously perverse. Yet simple as the dichotomy may be, Delpy gets good comic mileage out of it. At a party, one French friend opens a conversation with Jack by explaining his preference in feminine pubic coiffure; another announces that he was the first man to give Marion an orgasm through intercourse. ("It wasn't any great love story," he adds, reassuringly. "More like brother and sister.") Indeed, it begins to appear that Marion has at one time or another slept with nearly all her male acquaintances and, in one case, may even have conducted an affair behind Jack's back. It's a possibility that leads the monolingual Jack to painstakingly translate, French-English dictionary in hand, the text message, "Je suis ton salami pour la vie."
The insights into relationships offered by 2 Days in Paris, though not much more sophisticated than its transatlantic analysis, are frequently biting. Neither Jack, with his self-involved intensity, nor Marion, with her easy evasions, is a terribly likable character. Twice, the current of anger that underlies many of the film's best jokes bursts forth in bitter harangues by Marion, one toward a racist cabbie and the other toward an ex-boyfriend. As both writer and actress, Delpy has an unexpected gift for rage, but its purposes remain somewhat obscure. Is she making the point that Marion, unlike the ever acerbic Jack, chokes down her temper until it overflows on innocent (or not-so-innocent) bystanders? Or are these scenes as much an insight into Delpy herself, who'd given little hint in her earlier work that she harbored such furies?
In the end, though, Delpy makes nice. Too nice. After a series of escalating confrontations, Marion and Jack separate and contemplate breaking up. And, in a common failing of romantic comedies--think, When Harry Met Sally or Manhattan--a movie that has spent close to an hour and a half developing the fractures in a relationship devotes around five minutes to resolving them. Rather than let us even experience the hurried denouement first-hand, Delpy describes it in a tedious pop-psych voiceover. The point, evidently, is to have the film say something, to teach us a little about life and love and the compromises we must make to succeed in either. But what's come before, while not particularly elucidating, has been far too fierce and funny to be topped off with such mush. In her first directorial outing, Julie Delpy has managed 90 percent of a sharp, cutting comedy; next time, perhaps, she can give the ending some claws as well.