Two Days in Paris
Director: Julie Delpy
Starring: Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg
I thought Two Days In Paris, about a European woman and her mismatched American boyfriend facing a relationship crisis, was going to catalyze a relationship crisis between me and my mismatched European girlfriend. When Julie Delpy, as photographer Marion (think a French Diane Keaton), and her boyfriend, Adam Goldberg as neurotic American rube Jack (think a tattooed Woody Allen), have a vacation stopover in Marion’s native Paris, his language barrier and the cultural differences between them drive them slowly to the vertiginous edge of breakup.
My girlfriend and I started discussing the film, vigorously, before we’d even left the theater. The conversation continued through several San Francisco blocks, down into the BART station, on the platform, throughout a 12-minute train ride in which passengers stared at us, for the 15-minute walk to my apartment, and did not let up until she declared she was taking a shower, and I declared I was opening a bottle of wine. At issue for me was the film’s principal flaw—crap storytelling. In its defense, she argued that the storytelling wasn’t that crappy, that anyway, the American need for spoon-fed plots and predictable outcomes is contemptible, and that the film is actually a marvelous look at culture clash that avoids clichÃ© and offers delightful depth and nuance.
Three quarters of the debate, though, involved us talking past each other about the ludicrously botched climax. The film takes its sweet time making it clear that the crisis its two lovers will face on this two-day Parisian stopover is jealousy. Jack can’t handle the way Marion’s flirtatious side comes out in her native environment. “He knew Paris was for lovers,” says the line on the poster. “He just didn’t think they were all hers.” So the climax, of course, is the blowout fight that boils down to obvious decision to break up—and the question of whether, in fact, that’s what they’ll do. Just as that fight’s happening, Delpy decides it’s a better idea to make the battle a near-soundless, disjointed montage over which her character will simply talk and tell you how it goes. Because the best dramatic choice would be to, you know, not dramatize the conflict. It’s an idiotic blunder in an engagingly arty little film that has so much else going for it.
That drove me up the freakin’ wall. My girlfriend, with almost proprietary zeal, dismissed this “arguable” flaw and lauded Delpy’s careful eye for cultural difference, painting interesting pictures of the larger cultures and utterly resisted postcard romanticizing of Paris—no Eiffel Tower, no Seine, no Montmartre cafes. She praised the acting, which is in fact terrific—the entire film seems improvised, though most of it, apparently, was scripted. Goldberg is particularly funny. Flopping around Paris as a fish out of his cultural waters, he brings the comic rhythms of a good sitcom without reducing the film to that kind of cartoon.
My girlfriend is dead crazy wrong about the absolutely mangled ending—Delpy only murders the drama by deciding not to describe rather than, you know, dramatize the scene, but she gives short shrift to Jack’s perspective as she dictates from Marion’s. But I never denied that the film offers far more, stuff that’s great to completely dismiss it over its structural weaknesses. Delpy not only wrote, produced and directed this admirably independent film, she edited it, and she does a fine job of keeping lively a film that really boils down to little half-connected vignettes of conversation. The low-budget verisimilitude provided by a lot of handheld camerawork is perhaps a bit overdone, but I didn’t mind it so much. It’s the perfect metaphor for the film, and one my girlfriend and I could agree on: Two Days in Paris is an intelligent, well-drawn piece of four-star work that suffers in some key one- or two-star technical blunders—but rewards those willing to overlook them.