Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunset,” a golden diary of the 80 minutes shared by two hypothetical soul mates as they glide through Paris, is a triumph in part because it mediates its humanism without lapsing into sloppy pathos. It creates two people we may choose to love despite being dragged through their requisite faults, reminding us of the omnipotence of time and the silliness of creating unfulfilled romantic expectations.
There isn’t a whole lot of love in “2 Days in Paris,” and that’s probably the point, but it’s seductively easy to hold this film up to its predecessor. “2 Days in Paris” is the directorial debut of French actress Julie Delpy, co-star and co-writer of “Before Sunset,” and though its premise suggests she’s mining the same territory she did as an actress, execution gets in the way.
Delpy once again plays the female lead, this time as Marion, a neurotic French photographer whose life is populated by predictably quirky people and incidents. Opposite her is Adam Goldberg as Jack, an interior designer from New York City with a distaste for French condoms. Like the title implies, the film takes place during a two-day layover in Paris as Marion and Jack encounter the vestiges of Marion’s Parisian childhood: her oh-so-French parents, her ex-boyfriends and her self-sacrificing younger sister. “2 Days in Paris” balloons to include a number of supporting characters whose fast, cheap characterizations yield a throwaway structure without the formal precision of Linklater’s masterpiece.
Marion and Jack have been dating for two years, but it is hard to tell from the series of convenient revelations that pile up over the film’s 90-minute runtime. Unfortunately, none are particularly interesting. Jack’s preoccupation with Marion’s sexual history shifts from mild amusement to postulant nagging in record time, veering toward casually offensive as he harps on her past as a loose woman. This underlines another of the film’s weaknesses: Goldberg himself, whose grating turn undermines any efforts made by Delpy to humanize the bickering couple. Goldberg’s turn is complacent sarcasm, a deliberate echo of Woody Allen’s self-obsession minus the charm and complexity. Notably, the film’s standout scenes are those between Jack and Marion’s sister Rose, the only person Jack does not condescend.
If “Before Sunset” replaces the three-act Hollywood structure with the ephemeral intimacy of a stage play, “2 Days in Paris” merely condenses a traditional arc into a
shorter-than-average timeframe, relying on blunt voiceovers and flashbacks to fill in the exposition. This creates problems in the third act, as tensions the film hasn’t necessarily earned replace the freeform culture comedy of the first two-thirds. Most bizarre is Jack’s encounter with a terrorist posing as an angel (German actor Daniel Bruhl), an event whose tonal and thematic divergence from everything reflects Delpy’s status as a rookie screenwriter.
The film’s observations are scattershot, no doubt hand-picked from personal experience. They reveal little about the petty characters behind them other than the tireless crusade to annoy one another. This is especially disappointing coming from Delpy, whose unique cross-cultural appeal might otherwise be conducive to a script trading in nuance rather than stereotype. Though Delpy clearly has the potential to make a great film — her writing evinces a rare candor and obsession with detail — “2 Days in Paris” is lazy and myopic. Perhaps “A Fortnight in Kyoto” will give us a little more room to breathe.
“2 Days in Paris” was written and directed by Julie Delpy.
It received one out of four stars.