By all means, 2 Days in Paris is a film that appeals to me. A condensed frame of time, two lovers, relationships, Paris, Julie Delpy. It’s been streaming on Netflix pretty much forever, but what had always held me back was the awful, awful cover art that made it appear to have the sensibilities of a cheesy and lame romantic comedy. Finally, after hearing from others what I had always hoped to hear, that the film was, in fact, not anything like that, it quickly rose on my to-watch list. Julie Delpy. Paris. How could this not be good?
That’s basically how this film operates. Much like Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset in which Delpy is effectively half of the cast, 2 Days in Paris is filled with playful, casual banter primarily between two people. The dialogue is often topical and unimportant. The film opens on Delpy (who writes, directs, and quite literally takes almost every credit for this film) and Adam Goldberg, who play Marion and her boyfriend Jack, as they insult American tourists who love Bush and The Da Vinci Code. Naturally, if you’re immediately offended, this film probably isn’t for you. It’s by no means meant to make a political statement, nor does it stay so potentially off-putting, but this style of playful, natural, and common conversation exemplifies this film’s sensibilities.
This means that there isn’t a particularly clear plot structure, nor does there need to be. There is no exposition, no particular building and climax as they attempt to achieve something. It’s simply one couple in love and arguing and discovering one another as forced by Marion’s family and past in Paris. The arc that is present comes within this couple’s relationship. They slowly grow apart and grow clearer to one another. We see this happening not through particular events, but through the topics of conversation, through how interested they are in each other’s otherwise banal interests, how quickly they snap, how they work their way out of spending time together.
The development is good and smart enough, though it isn’t particularly stunning. Fortunately, the film is not the type that must have a happy ending. It’s a truthful exploration, and if things don’t work out for our characters, then that’s simply the way it happened. These people aren’t perfect together, that’s clear pretty quickly, and the film doesn’t try to cheat us by making it true. It owns up to their faults. They’re both getting old, they’ve both been with a lot of people before and may even want to be with other people now. Things are rarely so simple. We also get a sense of Paris. Marion’s parents are eccentric, to say the least, and it’s meant to speak to the general sensibilities of French citizens. There are several wonderful encounters inside of taxis in which Jack is unable to communicate with the driver, and we watch Marion have odd or personal conversations with the driver right in front of him. It creates a wonderful dynamic wherein we watch Jack attempt to decipher similar words and tonalities.
Delpy, both in delivery and writing, is masterful at rattling off naturalistic dialogue. Dialogue in novels or films never seems unrealistic, but there is a certain stylization necessary for clarity and comfort. A change must be applied to make it seem real. Delpy, however, has a strong ability to create truly realistic dialogue. It may not function well to advance plot, but rather, it creates almost a voyeuristic aspect to films such as this. It’s as though we’re watching a couple be intimate or joke around, as though we get to sit in on private moments. Even the casual conversations over meals or observing a new room are beautiful displays of interaction. They’re accurate and they’re simply fun to be privileged enough to overhear.
Delpy also gives us the occasional voiceover. She speaks in a careful and paced voice, and it shows further how well she knows this type of material. She could easily drift into a pseudo-emotional overkill, but always manages to stay pensive and romantic in her notions without reaching saccharine. These moments are often punctuated by still frames, photographs taken by her character or Jack, and it works to great effect. There isn’t all that much for the camera to do, the film is a plethora of conversations, but it never becomes boring. We love watching these characters walk and discover their surroundings.
2 Days in Paris sits between the sensibilities of Linklater’s films or a (good) mumblecore piece, albeit, with significantly more polish. It does a fantastic job of crafting conversations and moments for us to sit in on. We do little more than spend time with this couple. Though the film reaches a fine and smart point emotionally, it isn’t as revealing as, for instance, Linklater’s films of this style. It does a good job of pulling itself together, it’s all more than function, and it certainly presents a much more complicated view of love and relationships than many other films. It does, however, feel fairly small and simple comparatively. That isn’t a bad thing. This film, after all, presents a small, microscopic view, but that does not mean that it can’t speak louder than it looks. Largely, 2 Days in Paris stands on how much we enjoy spending time with Marion and Jack. This is where Delpy shines. They’re more than enjoyable enough to hang out with for a time.