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August 14, 2007 |

By John Williams | Film | August 14, 2007 |

David Denby recently argued in The New Yorker that we’re suffering through a period of film romances that feature slovenly, juvenile men made whole by accomplished but essentially vacant women, and that neither gender is flattered by the trend. (The piece was pegged to
Knocked Up, and it’s hard to argue against his thesis based on that example.) But it seems to me that we’re suffering through a broader problem, which is that our romances are not romantic.

Many recent stories about couples — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Shopgirl, and The Break-Up come to mind here, among others — vary wildly in tone and ambition (and quality), but all of them fixate on the dissolution of relationships without convincingly showing us that their subjects were ever really in love. 2 Days in Paris joins their ranks. It’s the directorial debut of Julie Delpy, who also wrote it, stars in it, co-produced it, sings in it, cast her parents in it, and presumably catered it, scouted locations for it, and replaced the shout of “action!” on set with a raw cry of “Delpy!”

Delpy starred in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset — co-writing the latter with director Richard Linklater — and she must have learned a lot about shooting and pacing a naturalistic story from the experiences. In some ways, 2 Days in Paris is superior to those movies. For instance, Ethan Hawke is nowhere to be seen. Instead, there’s Adam Goldberg as Marion’s boyfriend of two years, Jack. (The couple is stopping over in Paris, staying with Marion’s parents on the way back to New York from a vacation in Venice. The scenes with her folks are among the most charming in the movie.) Goldberg is tattooed, hirsute, and emotionally aggressive — the opposite of Hawke, who is pale, waxy, and always seems on the verge of asking for his blankie. And where Linklater’s mood was moony and sentimental in the Before movies, Delpy’s is clenched and spiteful, even when it’s funny. Marion spends the time in Paris aimlessly talking with other men (with the exception of two angry, public run-ins, one with an ex-boyfriend and one with a cab driver, during which her aim appears to be their dismemberment). Jack spends the time growing increasingly paranoid about Marion’s past and present exploits, culminating with the discovery of several erotic text messages from another man on her Blackberry.

The script is sharp and often witty, but there’s a pointed lack of incident here. The only thing that really happens is Jack’s realization that he and Marion aren’t right for each other, and it seems like this revelation might have dawned on both of them earlier — say, after the first or second date. Jack is a painfully needy neurotic, and Marion is the righteous type who can work herself into tears about how our overuse of toilet paper is threatening the environment but can’t seem to deeply care about the person sitting next to her.

Every critic with a pulse has compared 2 Days in Paris to the earlier work of Woody Allen, because the parallels are inescapable. But in Annie Hall, for instance, we don’t only see the bickering and the falling out of love. We see tender moments, like the scene in which Alvy and Annie wrangle the lobsters. If Jack and Marion had that kind of chemistry, we might feel more invested in their fate. I enjoyed most of 2 Days in Paris, but it left me wondering why so many young filmmakers shy away from portraying happiness, even if it’s fleeting.

In the novel High Fidelity, Nick Hornby famously asked what comes first for a music lover, sad songs or a sad life. Do we relate to sad songs because of our own heartbreak, or does a steady diet of mopey music when we’re young make it inevitable that we build romantic livesfull of error and regret? I’m 33, so pop culture has already forged my character, for better or worse, but I feel bad for younger moviegoers — love is hard enough, and they deserve to see the lobsters as well as the blowups.

John Williams lives in Brooklyn. He’s a freelance writer. He blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid.

Stoning the Romance

2 Days in Paris / John Williams

Film | August 14, 2007 |

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