Julie Delpy on the set.
A Delightful Romantic Comedy
Written & Directed by Julie Delpy
Principal Actors: Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg & Daniel Brühl
Summary: Two Days in Paris follows a New York couple, French photographer Marion (Julie Delpy) and American interior designer, Jack (Adam Goldberg) as they try to reinfuse their relationship with romance on a European vacation. Julie Delpy wrote, directed, and starred in this hilarious film which was nominated for Cesar, Independent Spirit and European Film Awards, and which won Delpy the Coup de Couer award at the Mons International Film Festival.
American audiences know Julie Delpy best as the ethereal creature who played “Celine” opposite Ethan Hawke’s “Jesse” in director Richard Linklater’s two indie classics Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). She made her feature film debut at age 14 in Jean-Luc’s Godard’s Détective (released in 1985), and she’s been a successful actress ever since, but according to recent interviews she’s been yearning for more for years now.
Before Sunset (which Delpy co-wrote with Linklater and Hawke) received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and that success has finally opened new doors for her behind-the-scenes. In Two Days in Paris, she not only stars and directs, she also wrote the screenplay, helped produce, composed some of the music, and contributed some of the still photography. Very few women have had comparable opportunities and only Barbra Streisand has made a directing debut with more moxie. (Charming as it is, Paris is still a low-budget indie whereas Streisand’s Yentl was a major studio release.)
The character Delpy has created for herself in Paris is named “Marion,” and many of the facts of Marion’s life mirror the facts of Delpy’s life. The people playing her parents in Paris are, in fact, her real parents (Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy), and even “Jean-Luc,” the cat, is Delpy’s real pet, Max. But Marion is not Delpy; she’s a fictional creation who just happens to embody qualities antithetical to those depicted in earlier roles. Totally grounded and far more salty than sweet, Marion is, in many ways, the opposite of Celine. I met Delpy when she came to Chicago in late July for a Press Day at the Four Seasons Hotel, and when I asked her about this directly, she agreed: “Marion is not the ‘ideal creature’ that Celine is.”
Her romantic foil is “Jack” played by Adam Goldberg (best-known as “the Jewish guy” on the Saving Private Ryan team). Although he’s had a very successful career playing second bananas, Goldberg has never played a serious leading role before and he handles it beautifully. On his first trip to “the city of lovers,” Jack must cope with the reality of a place idealized by artists for centuries. New sights and smells are unexpectedly repugnant, and the people, far from being aloof and hypercritical, are often overly-familiar. This is especially true of Marion’s parents, who treat the new man in their daughter’s life as just one more in a long queue.
Many critics have compared Marion and Jack to the adorably fractious characters played by Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall (1977). Much as I love that film (one of the few comedies to ever win a Best Picture Oscar), I find very little comparison other than the obvious: Jack is definitely Jewish and Marion is not. In the context of Paris it’s much more important to note that these two couples are on opposite sides of the sexual revolution.
Annie, like Celine, has a winsome softness, perfectly captured by her much quoted line: “Oh, well; la de da, la de da.” Marion is far more self-possessed. If Jack were to tell her which books to buy, which courses to take, and other ways to continually “improve herself” for his benefit, Marion would likely bite his head off. Paris is a comedy, so Delpy allows herself to push the edge of the envelope, aggressively confronting racist cab drivers and duplicitous ex-lovers with equal abandon. “You can’t react always as Marion does,” Delpy told me, “Because otherwise you’d get in trouble all the time.” But playing Marion was clearly liberating for her. (“It was so much fun… kind of like a fantasy of what I wish I could do.”) And she especially enjoyed Marion’s physical courage. (“Physically I’m a little woman and I don’t dare.”)
None of this would work if Goldberg had Allen’s physique, but in fact he’s quite buff and tattooed. In his only other lead role, Goldberg played “Mordechai Jefferson Carver,” the eponymous hero of the 2003 blaxploitation-parody The Hebrew Hammer, so it’s fun to watch him react every time Marion gets feisty. (I learned in other interviews that Goldberg is one of Delpy’s real ex’s although I never asked her about this myself.)
I laughed myself silly watching Paris, but then, once Delpy had me in the palm of her hand, she and Goldberg took me someplace quite unexpected, and the ending absolutely broke my heart. Like all great comediennes, Delpy knows that every deep relationship is inherently tragic, poised forever on the brink of loneliness and loss. I loved this trip to Paris: I laughed; I cried; I had a thoroughly satisfying emotional experience. And then, when I got home, I kissed my cats, and oh yes, I kissed my husband too!
Read Jan’s interview with Writer/Director/Star Julie Delpy at:
© Jan Lisa Huttner (8/23/07)