2 DAYS IN PARIS has one of the nicest establishing shots in cinema. From overhead, the audience watches a couple (Adam Goldberg and Julie Delpy) sleeping peacefully on a train heading from Venice to Paris. The narration, by co-star/writer/director Delpy, introduces them as Jack and Marion, traveling Europe after two years together. A tricky time, when questions about the next step in their relationship loom large and traveling together brings them all into sharper focus. They are curled up with each other in the casual intimacy of a long-term relationship, and the T-shirt that Delpy is wearing sports the graphic of a gun on it, the barrel of which is pointed right at Goldberg. What follows is playful, but also deadly serious in a laugh-out-loud way.
After spending a less-than romantic vacation in Venice, they are on their way to spend the eponymous time in Paris in Marion’s apartment, which is one flight up from her bohemian parents (Delpy’s real-life parents Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet). There, Marion will encounter her past and Jack will encounter Marion’s eccentric family, in addition to that past, and how each of these things resonate with them individually has deep and disturbing ramifications for what their relationship is all about. Jack, a native New Yorker with minimal French language skills has no trouble understanding the gist of what Marion’s family are saying about him, disparaging and not, it’s what Marion is saying in plain English that he finds mystifying. Equally mystifying for Marion are Jack’s reactions to little things like running into a seemingly endless stream of her old boyfriends who act as though Jack isn’t there, or his taking umbrage when her family passes around the full-frontal photo she took of Jack, a bouquet of helium balloons securely tethered to his manhood. Never mind the similar photo of another man that shows up tucked in her bible. Well, he thinks that they are similar. She points out that the balloons are completely different colors. More umbrage ensues.
This isn’t so much a smart précis on the cultural differences between France and America as it is one on the cultural divide between the male and female of the species, a gap as wide for Marion’s parents as it is for her and Jack.
These are not quirky lovably people. They are quirky real people, meaning that they are exasperating as well as charming and not always in equal measure. Coping with exhaustion, taxi-drivers from hell, the frank attitude the French evince towards foodstuffs and sexuality, as well as the illusion of chaos stripped away into a maelstrom of synchronicity, Jack is sardonic for reasons that aren’t necessarily unwarranted, Marion has anger management issues that are not necessarily inappropriate. Together they are the sort of mess that is the near-perfect symbiotic relationship. Marion can coo to Jack that he’s mean and that it’s so right when he maliciously and deliberately sends a bunch of American tourists off in the opposite direction from the Louvre because they voted for Bush >and< are on the trail of the Da Vinci code. Whether, though, they can weather lapses such as him asking if she’s had sex with someone and her replying with the intriguing word “vaguely” is another story and the crux of the film.
This isn’t just a smart film, it may be one of the most insightful on the subject of true love ever undertaken. Amid the witty, quick, and intelligent repartee that marks this as a comedy of the first order, there is also the undercurrent of the tug between romance, which is waning with these two, and true love, in the sense of long-term commitment coupled with a peculiar affection for the other’s failings, that may or may not be taking its place. For all the comedy, there is an emotional thriller at play here that is as riveting as the one-liners are disarming, and both Delpy and Goldberg nail both moods with a subtle, sure-handed virtuosity, be it sparring over the merits of French condoms, or what intimacy really means.
2 DAYS IN PARIS may, in the words of Jack during one of his darker moments, document the least romantic day in Parisian history, but it also celebrates the maddening contradictions that can either draw us together or push us apart. The elf (Daniel Bruhl) that Jack encounters may or may not be magical, but the film in which they find themselves most assuredly is.