2½ stars (out of four)
Only a very good actor can fly all over the place emotionally while remaining completely in control technically, and for most of her screen career Julie Delpy has been one of those actors. When she plays a moment of consternation, or disappointment with a chaser of amusement, she's right there, giving her fellow performers and the audience all they need. She's transparent, in other words, without being simple.
With so many cinematic mash notes to Paris going around, from "Broken English" to "Paris J'Taime," Delpy's new film "2 Days in Paris" arrives as a bittersweet antidote to the adoration. The actor, who wrote, directed, co-produced and edited, shot her film on the cheap in the City of Light, thus guaranteeing a certain amount of charm. But the results, informed by the two-year relationship under dissection, are less akin to "Paris J'Taime" than to "Paris, I Am Extremely Ambivalent About You." You, with your racist cabbies and your strikes and your free-floating sexual mores and your tiny apartments with the ancient plumbing.
Delpy's film plays around with French attitudes toward Americans, and Americans' experience with the Gallic temperament. It begins as Marion (Delpy, with big black Woody Allen specs) returns to Paris from a Venice vacation with her boyfriend of two years, Jack (Adam Goldberg). They're staying over at Marion's place, which is above her parents' flat, en route back to their life in New York. Marion is a photographer; Jack is an interior designer. Their time together has been fun, Marion says in voiceover, with the requisite "ups and downs. And in-betweens, mostly."
The Adam we see is quite a load. Trying on sunglasses ("Which one of these looks more Godard?") or scrunching his brows up in contained horror at the brazenly sexual comments of Marion's parents, he's meant to be half-charming and half-pill. Then the serious issues arise, and the "pill" part takes over. On the streets of Paris, at a gallery opening and at a late-night party, Marion and Jack keep running into Marion's former lovers. Jack the blinkered American stews, and frets, and becomes increasingly paranoid and possessive and weird. The question of compatibility hangs over "2 Days in Paris." Are these two really better off being together?
Delpy has concocted a family affair, casting her real-life parents, Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy, as Marion's parents, free spirits and meddlers both. She and Goldberg used to be an offscreen item, and on screen they have an undeniable rapport. But by accident or design the film is seriously unbalanced; Jack wastes no time in establishing himself as an exhausting xenophobic whiner, and if even a fraction of this character is based on the real Goldberg, Goldberg might consider a complete personality overhaul.
The film harkens back to the Richard Linklater pictures Delpy did with Ethan Hawke, "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset." In those Delpy's character outshone the more neurotically verbal American writer-in-the-making played by Hawke, but the results stick in the memory; they're open-ended in a lovely, novelistic way. "2 Days in Paris" is a short story by comparison. But Delpy's skill, which is considerable and wide-ranging, points to better, fuller films in her directorial future.
'2 Days in Paris'
Written, directed, edited and music by Julie Delpy; photographed by Lubomir Bakchev; production design by Barbara Marc; produced by Christophe Mazodier, Delpy and Thierry Potok. A Samuel Goldwyn Films release; opens Friday at Landmark Century Centre Cinema, Highland Park Renaissance Place and Cinearts Evanston. Running time: 1:36. MPAA rating: R (for sexual content, some nudity and language).
Marion - Julie Delpy
Jack - Adam Goldberg
Anna - Marie Pillet
Jeannot - Albert DelpyCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times