Paired with another scruffy American in Paris, Julie Delpy actively engages viewer recollections of "Before Sunset" in her DIY feature-length directorial debut. Playing like a rough-around-the edges reinterpretation of Richard Linklater's transcendent "Before Sunrise" sequel, "2 Days in Paris" echoes "Sunset" in so many ways it's nearly impossible to meet on its own terms (at least for one as admittedly infatuated with its predecessor as I am). Much of the film's meaning seems generated by comparisons. His name this time is Jack (Adam Goldberg) rather than Jesse but, as Marion quibbles with her beau along the Seine--full of resting riverboats--we can't help but think back to Celine and Jesse's tremulous ride. Delpy's character in "2 Days" also distractingly resembles the other in intellectual curiosity, strident political concerns, and unabashed love for her cat (named Jean-Luc, though we still remember Che). Is she intentionally playing off these resonances, and to what effect?
Tacking on two days to visit Marion's family in Paris before returning back home to New York after a vacation in Venice, the couple encounters several of her ex-boyfriends during their brief stay. Each run-in gives Jack cause for concern as he sees, for the first time, evidence of her active love life before him. While his insecurities take hold--exacerbating an already neurotic persona which leaves him prone to migraines and anxious about potential allergens, oncoming colds, terrorists--Marion's behavior becomes increasingly erratic, spiking during a frenzied argument with a cabbie over some racist comments he makes. Startling Jack and causing the driver to pull over, her actions invert a similar scene in "Sunset" where Celine reaches an emotional crescendo in a backseat confessional. But whereas Celine's meltdown shows us her vulnerability and brings us closer, Marion's alienates, reveals her characteristic kookiness as a cover for a deeper kind of craziness (later to be dubbed by Jack an "impulse control disorder").
The dissonance this creates seems deliberate; a way of stripping away the lush romanticization of Paris and love--between two impossibly captivating human beings--found in Linklater's film, and countering it with a coarser representation of both the city and the day-to-day in the life of a two-year-old couple flecked with numerous flaws. "2 Days" seeks to inject the unrulier aspects of relationships into the equation, and has some nice qualities--the writing can be witty, and occasionally Delpy's charmingly off-kilter sensibility shines through--but it's a mess. Is it an investigation into jealousy, or the fallacies of emotional openness? A cross-cultural romance examining national truisms and misperceptions? An illustration of generalities about how no person can ever truly know another . . . blah, blah, blah. Who knows? Huge gaps in characterization coupled with an inexplicably explicit yet still cryptic concluding voiceover summation leaves us stranded.
Rhythm-less and stunted by strange tics, the movie longs to break out of its loquacious romantic comedy mold to encompass more than its generic lightness can accommodate--an urge which betrays itself with bouts of crass humor and sudden animosity. Other signs: Peppered throughout are political references, including jabs at ugly American tourism ("Da Vinci Code-Breakers" on the way to the Louvre) and Bush administration horrors (see Jack's fashionably scripted "Visit Guantanamo Bay" T-shirt), as well as French xenophobia and, well, Frenchness (Delpy's real-life mother and father play earthily snobbish caricatures). The writer-director (and editor and producer . . .) says in the press notes that she had any number of other films in mind to make as her first but couldn't find financing until, ultimately, settling on a movie in which she would "not be too different from what people are used to seeing me in." Clearly Delpy's a wise student of the world with something to say, but "2 Days in Paris" lacks the cohesive vision and imperative one senses she's after.
[Kristi Mitsuda is a Reverse Shot staff writer and works at New York's Film Forum.]