She: "I'm 33 years old. You knew I wasn't a virgin."
He: "Of course you're not a virgin. Far from it, in fact."
That's pretty much the gist of this independent romantic comedy from Julie Delpy, who writes, directs, and co-stars with the ever-sarcastic Adam Goldberg. When Jack and Marion, who've celebrated two years of being a couple (with the usual ups and downs and in-betweens) go to Venice, everything is a-o-k. But when the pair decides to spend two days in Paris on their trip back to New York and the life they've built together, things start to get weird . . . for Jack.
Back on her home turf, his Parisian girlfriend has plenty of conversations that Jack isn't privy to, because he only speaks a few phrases of French. But he knows human nature, and he can spot flirting when he sees it. Cab drivers offer to give her a baby if he isn't up to the task, old boyfriends on the street make eye contact that says "let's pick up where we left off," and when her cell phone rings and he glances at it, he sees all sorts of text-messages from all sorts of guys.
"Is there anyone in Paris you haven't slept with?"
Even Marion's parents (Delpy's real-life mom and dad, Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy) seem obsessed with sex . . . or at least not as uptight about it as poor Jack. When Marion shrugs off a mere "blowjob" that she says she thinks she gave this guy, Jack's response gives some sense of the way he sees things: "It was a blowjob that brought down America's last chance at a healthy democracy." This, from a guy who misdirects a group of American tourists to the Louvre because one of them is wearing a Bush-Cheney t-shirt.
That's it, really. There are no sideplots (unless you count those irate tourists, who turn up later), no twists and turns--just two days in Paris with these two people, shadowing them as they feel the bond between them turning suddenly into a gulf. But it's the kind of story that almost anyone can identify with, if you've ever accompanied a spouse to a high school reunion or retraced some of your spouse's footsteps from pre-you days.
You could also say that "2 Days in Paris" is like a French version of "Meet the Parents," with a series of events running approximately parallel and leaving the hapless boyfriend feeling like Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation." What makes this work, though, are the two stars and the credible, dreadable tension that unfolds. Plus, Delpy relies heavily on long takes with a hand-held camera and tight shots of the couple, rather than the usual two-shot/reaction shot you get from slick romantic comedies. The result is a film that feels like docufiction, and it puts the focus so squarely on the two main characters that the burden also falls on them to pull it off.
And I think they do that in fine fashion, each one becoming Marion or Jack and behaving so much like a real couple that their performances will evoke all sorts of memories (and paranoia?) in couples who watch.
Delpy, best known for her acting ("Before Sunset," "Broken Flowers"), is at her best when she shocks her significant other by taking perverse pleasure out of putting cab drivers in their place, talking more like a sailor than a photographer. Some might tire of Goldberg's Everyman, but I thought he nailed down a believable blend of Woody Allenesque befuddlement or resignation with a more pugnacious sarcasm that better suits the tattoos he has all over his body.
French condoms? A photo of him naked that she shows her family? A visit to Dad's art gallery for a tour of the bawdy, hypersexual paintings and drawings? A sister (Aleksia Landeau) who may or may not be on your side? The cocktail party that goes terribly awry? It's enough to make a guy exclaim (as Jack does), "This isn't Paris. This is hell."
Paris may be the City of Lights, but what dawns on this couple is that they might not make it as a couple after two days here. Delpy's script was nominated for a César award, and it's an intelligent screenplay that focuses on character while also moving the characters briskly along in the space of the film's 100 minutes. "2 Days in Paris" earned a Best First Feature nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards, and Delpy's direction is tight and her sense of a scene impeccable. None of them seem to go on too long or end too abruptly. Ultimately, as with most good films, it's the small details that matter most. I doubt very much that I'll ever forget Marion's father keying the sides of every car that encroaches upon the sidewalk they're using as the group strolls through Paris. The juxtaposition of his casual political protest against Jack's moral outrage and Marion's laissez faire attitude gets to the heart of what makes a scene work, and what makes a film connect with an audience on a human level. There are many such moments in "2 Days in Paris," a delightful first-effort from a woman whose promise as a director equals the promise she shows as an actor.
For an independent film, the production values are quite good. There's a slight graininess throughout and some soft-focus edges, but other than that the picture is mostly sharp and with good color saturation. "2 Days in Paris" is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, stretched to fill out the entire 16x9 monitor.
Since it's mostly dialogue, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack seems like overkill. There isn't even much in the way of ambient street noise, and the pair spends all sorts of time in Paris exteriors. It's also odd that a film set in France doesn't have a French soundtrack. Or subtitles. The only subtitles are in English (CC) and Spanish.
There's about a half-hour of bonus features here, half of which are worthwhile. Delpy appears on-camera for a 15-minute interview during which she talks about the film and the choices she made. As you watch, you almost wish she'd have done a commentary track, or appeared with Goldberg to talk about the chemistry the pair has . . . and doesn't have. The other fifteen minutes of extras are extended scenes, none of which is different enough to warrant a look.
Delpy does for Paris what Woody Allen did for New York, turning it into an arena for neuroses and relationship angst, and milking it for all the comedy that those situations present. "2 Days in Paris" has the look and feel of an independent film and the accomplished writing and brisk direction of a big-money feature. And Delpy and Goldberg make the perfect couple for this misadventure. Anyone who's ever been on a date that's gone bad and watched helplessly as things got worse will appreciate this film.