Only a few weeks ago Woody Allen commented in an interview that he didn’t think of himself as an influential director, saying that he saw no traces of his work informing other people’s movies. Obviously, Allen hadn’t seen Julie Delpy’s auspicious directorial debut, 2 Days in Paris, when he made that statement. What’s surprising is that one might have more reasonably expected Delpy to be under the influence of Richard Linklater, who directed her two best known films, Before Sunrise (1995) and its sequel Before Sunset (2004), but that’s hardly the case here. (What she does with her proposed horror biopic of Elizabeth Bathory, The Countess, may be quite a different bathful of blood.)
Whatever one may say about 2 Days in Paris, it’s the closest anyone has come to making a Woody Allen film apart from Allen himself. Moreover, she’s made a good Woody Allen film—and one with enough identity of its own to register as something more than a kind of Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979) or Stardust Memories (1980) knockoff (to cite the Allen films it most resembles).
Actually, in terms of making a personal film, Delpy could be said to have upped the ante on Allen. Not only did she write, direct and star in the film, she also coproduced it, edited it and wrote the music—a singularly ambitious approach that runs the risk of undue criticism. As Roger Ebert noted in his review of the film, “When a woman takes on that many jobs, we slap her down for vanity. When a man does it, we call him the new Orson Welles.” It’s not likely that anyone would mistake 2 Days in Paris for the next Citizen Kane, regardless of the gender of its creator, but the point is well-taken.
Delpy’s film doesn’t set out to reinvent the cinematic wheel, merely to be an insightful romantic comedy that dares to be more than comedic when the situation calls for it. In this regard, it’s hard to fault. The central premise of the film involves the foundering romance of Marion (Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg), who make an ill-advised attempt to patch up their relationship—following a largely unpleasant trip to Venice—by spending two days in Marion’s hometown of Paris with her parents. Not only are there the expected cultural difficulties concerning sanitation and diet (remember Woody Allen’s reaction to the prospect of eating rabbit in Stardust Memories), but there’s the additional problem of Marion’s apparently endless parade of old boyfriends. (The lady seems to have been nothing if not friendly.) It’s a situation just bound to test a nice, slightly uptight Jewish boy from New York, who already feels out of place in his foreign surroundings. It’s also a situation that with a lesser script could have quickly grown very tiresome.
Thankfully, Delpy is too savvy a writer to fall into the inherent pitfalls of the concept—in part by taking the Allen-esque idea espoused in Manhattan that people create rather absurd personal problems in order to distract themselves from thinking about the larger, bleaker aspects of life. This first finds voice in Marion dismissing an old affair as consisting of nothing more than a solitary bout of oral sex, saying that it’s really nothing in the greater scheme of things—only to have Jack score his point with one of the film’s best jokes. This tactic crops up on several occasions—sometimes reversed, so that the bigger issues become ways for Marion to excuse her smaller indiscretions—and takes the film to heights not generally associated with romantic comedy.
The film’s single serious problem is that its characters invite comparison with Allen and Diane Keaton, placing Goldberg and Delpy in the unenviable position of living up to that on-screen chemistry—and they simply can’t, at least not consistently. Each does pretty well, but neither is quite Allen or Keaton. Occasionally, Goldberg really pulls it off—as when he mutters, “The mother’s a slut, too,” when he learns of an indiscretion from her youth—but it doesn’t happen quite often enough. Still, this is almost nitpicking when dealing with a movie this genuinely witty, adult and thoughtful. Rated R for sexual content, some nudity and language.