Paris Not for Lovers

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Samuel Goldwyn

Julie Delpy and Adam Goldberg in 2 Days in Paris.

There is something like universal agreement on this point: Paris is for lovers. Judging from 2 Days in Paris, the cliché's lone dissident is Julie Delpy, who wrote, directed, stars in, edited and took the stills for the film. She even warbles its end credit song. In her Paris every cab driver is either a sexist pig or a right-wing nut job, the outdoor market seems to feature more ickily butchered animals than it does flowers and vegetables, and the house Delpy's Marion and her American lover Jack (Adam Goldberg) shack up in belongs to her deranged parents (played by Delpy's own mother and father). It smells bad and has leaky plumbing.

This says nothing about the dysfunctions of Marion — who appears to be what used to be rather quaintly called a nymphomaniac — and Jack, who is a whining hypochondriac. The pair live in New York; have been on vacation in Venice, which has not exactly rekindled their former passion; and are stopping off in Paris to reclaim her overweight and sullen cat and for him to meet her family.

Mostly what he meets are Marion's many previous lovers, who keep turning up as they wander the grubbily photographed streets. At first that doesn't particularly bother Jack. His main interest is determining whether his and Marion's immune systems are a good match — something they can rely on over a relationship's long haul. But still, there's something pestiferous about those ubiquitous guys. And when Marion hysterically denounces one of them in a crowded restaurant, their bleak idyll comes to a crisis. It does not help that visiting Jim Morrison's grave in Pere Lachaise is a turn-off for him (he's more of a Val Kilmer fan) or that French condoms are too small for him.

That's a fair sample of Delpy's humor, which runs to the black and the tossed off — rather like her rather casual shooting style. She's more interested in hasty impressions than in formal elegance. The phrase "vanity production" has come up in some of the early commentary on 2 Days in Paris, but I don't think that's quite fair. Delpy can't help it that she is at least competent in a number of filmmaking realms. And she can't help it that her view of Paris (and of the romantic impulse) is less than enchanted. She has already appeared in (and co-written one of) a pair of Paris romances — Before Sunset and Before Sunrise — which were pretty enough, but also not exactly ga-ga when it came to the love stuff. So this new movie's attitude does not come as a complete surprise.

Or as a complete disappointment, either. The passing years have, indeed, taken some of the shimmer and shine off Paris — as they have off every great city. It is not immune to traffic problems, overcrowding, political and commercial ugliness, and it is probably correct of Delpy to acknowledge that unpleasantness. The same, obviously, can be said about romantic transactions. Jack's tummy troubles and Marion's shadowed past are pretty much par for the course of true love nowadays. Whether or not an audience wants to immerse themselves in such matters is another question. Maybe we still want the Seine to sparkle in the sunlight as it always has, Maybe we hope Gene Kelly will still come tapping down the Montmartre sidewalks as once he did. If that's the case then 2 Days in Paris will not be your dish of Pernod. But if a dose of skepticism (see Jack trying to come to grips with rabbit stew) and multilingual frenzy (dealing with a vegan saboteur in a fast food restaurant) does not seem entirely amiss to you, this anti romantic and anti-comic — it's not as funny as Delpy seems to think it is — movie may appeal to the dark side of your immune system.