September 27, 2007

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2 Days in Paris (R)
Julie Delpy and Adam Goldberg perfectly capture the miseries of coupledom in 2 Days in Paris, a surprisingly funny and slightly self-mocking movie.

Not that, I should rush to explain, being in a couple is miserable. It’s lovely. But, you know, there are things. And these things are never so apparent as when the couple spends time with one member’s family. While still thoroughly committed to being part of the couple, one may find oneself wondering if it would really be so bad to just sneak out of the house and board a plane to somewhere else.

While I try to avoid reviews of movies before I see them, it’s been hard to avoid the comparisons of Delpy and her approach to this kind of material to Woody Allen and early Allen comedies. There are certainly parallels — Goldberg spends much of the movie in very Allen-esque states of being appalled or filled with a kind of loathing (some of it the self-loathing caused by jealousy, some of it the kind of weariness that comes from being in a situation over which you have absolutely no control and no means of coping). But Delpy herself plays a kind of Alleny character. She runs the movie via her narration and shows us both her slightly horrifying parents (French former hippies — the term “yeesh” covers them pretty well) and the slightly defensive, rationalizing way in which she describes her own actions.

And, if you like this sort of thing (but without some of those tics and tendencies that make Allen himself kind of irritating in these movies), you’ll like 2 Days in Paris.

Marion (Deply) and Jack (Goldberg) have just landed in Paris from a vacation in Venice which, as Marion explains, wasn’t exactly the romance-drunk sojourn she and her boyfriend had been hoping for. She’s annoyed that he spent so much of the trip photographing the moment rather than being in it and he had a rough time, gastrointestinally speaking, with all the travel. They return to Paris, where they stopped on the way to Venice to drop Marion’s cat off with her parents, and tiredly collapse into the one-room apartment that Marion owns right above her parents’ apartment.

The collapsing doesn’t last long, though — what’s with the black mold on the bathroom wall and ceiling, he asks. Your parents have a key, he says after Marion’s mother (Marie Pillet) walks in on them having sex to ask if they have any laundry that needs washing. Why does Paris smell like lamb? What is he (Albert Delpy) saying, Jack asks when he guesses (correctly) that Marion’s father has just made fun of him. What’s with all the nudity, he conveys via shocked glances and under-the-breath asides when he visits the father’s very strange art gallery.

The question that Jack, in his misery, doesn’t ask is “just how many people in Paris have you slept with?” Though they don’t meet too many ex-boyfriends, the ones they do meet fill Jack with a kind of sick jealousy made worse by the fact that he has no idea what they’re saying to Marion, with all the laughing and the cheek-kissing.

Marion, for her part, doesn’t ask “what’s wrong with you?” but there’s clearly some part of her that thinks that. Why can’t Jack just go with the French flow?

So, if you’re in a couple or have been in a couple, it’s likely that you’ve been a Jack or a Marion or maybe both. Maybe that’s why I laughed until I snorted at Jack’s suffering — sometimes what pushes you to the edge of madness in real life is quite funny when viewed from the safety of a movie theater.

I also credit Delpy for making this movie work. She did extremely elegant work making everyone sympathetic and annoying and somewhat foolish-looking all at once (“human,” I believe that’s called). The French characters are ridiculous but, in one hilarious moment, Jack catches a glimpse of the most exaggerated version of the horrible American tourist. We’re all jerks and weenies here but we can laugh at ourselves and still get along with each other, even love each other.

And, while you’ll never see it on a greeting card, that’s a pretty good description of true, in-it-for-life couple-ness. Delpy won’t win over any star-eyed romantic comedy fans but she’ll get plenty of appreciation from those of us who have been in Marion and Jack’s travel-addled minds. B

Rated R for sexual content, some nudity and language. Written and directed by Julie Delpy, 2 Days in Paris is an hour and 34 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Samuel Goldwyn Films. The movie is currently screening in the Boston area and at Wilton Town Hall Theatre and is slated to run at the Screening Room in Newburyport starting Oct. 5.