Arts & Culture

DVD Review: The Hebrew Hammer Spends Two Days in Paris

Martin Amis has a line in Night Train, his postmodern murder mystery, about the victim: “She had it all, and she had it all, and then she had some more.” This is how I’ve long felt about Julie Delpy, France’s … Read More

By / April 9, 2008

Martin Amis has a line in Night Train, his postmodern murder mystery, about the victim: “She had it all, and she had it all, and then she had some more.” This is how I’ve long felt about Julie Delpy, France’s most accomplished manufacture since the Concorde. 2 Days in Paris, her charming if slightly uneven debut as a writer-director (she also scored the film), is Woody Allen’s answer to Before Sunrise: a peripatetic talkfest between two neurotics adrift in a European city and at the very probable end of the affair. Indeed, that it all begins on a train suggests Delpy has seen a few too many romantic comedies—namely, her own. Delpy plays Marion, an expatriate Parisian photographer living in New York with bad eyesight and a diet-restricted cat named Jean-Luc. Adam Goldberg plays Jack, her two-year American boyfriend, an interior designer (yes) with a feared immune system, a sense of humor best described as an offense mechanism, and many tattoos that you’d never find on a real hypochondriac. When we meet them, they have just spent nearly a fortnight on the Continent trying to salvage their flagging romance, with Jack taking most of the pictures and Marion doing the serious thinking, judging by her voiceovers, about the relationship and human compatibility in general. What should have been a placid holiday capper enjoyed in the company of her family and friends instead becomes Jack’s mounting realization that he knows his girlfriend about as well as her native tongue. What’s the French for “damaged goods”? Let’s put it this way: If you fell for Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Natalie Portman in Closer, then you will no doubt smile upon Marion’s collection of snapshots of the men in her life posed naked with balloons tied around their dicks, as you will on the fact that she shares them with her mother, father and sister. She blithely downplays one ex’s habit of sending her text messages about licking a pussy that isn’t Jean-Luc, and she physically assaults another ex in a restaurant whom she accuses of post-colonial pedophilia in Asia. But for Jack, two days in the city of lights is a tour of unpleasant discoveries and unresolved questions. Is Marion a lying, cheating slut with an impulse control problem, or is she just misunderstood? Is her petite morte for him and him alone? These are brainteasers that, irrespective of any quotient of female reassurance, most male viewers will find eminently sympathetic.
And that shouldn’t be as easy as it is in this case. Goldberg has always struck this reviewer as little more than a swarthy Christopher Walken sent to Hebrew school. Prior to the present film, he was perfectly cast in Friends as Chandler’s creepy, fruit-drying new roommate, and it’s been a hard association to lose. Yet here he is doing something winning with that morbid, spitfire personality. Just off the train and a stranger in Paris, Jack directs a group of fellow travelers from the states with a misplaced fondness for Dan Brown novels and George W. Bush to a Da Vinci Code cultural node he can’t locate himself. Yes, that’ll teach the bumpkin compatriots to continue our lousy reputation abroad. (Marion loves him not least for his politics. “After all,” he tells her upon hearing of how far she got with a boundary-disrespectful writer called Menu, “it was a blowjob that destroyed any chance at a healthy democracy.”) Yet Jack, too, is his own species of unquiet American; he assumes an instant, befuddled rapport with everyone he meets—from Marion’s sex-obsessed soixante-huitard parents, played by Delpy’s adorable real-life versions, to a pair of firefighters he swears his fille was just feeling up when it was more the fabric of their sleek uniforms that caught her paw. “Hey guys, can I feel your muscles too?” he asks in an anxious, accusatory style, frittering away whatever remaining Gallic goodwill 9/11 once inspired. Jack is not so much lost in translation as petulantly oblivious to it. Before Sunset, you’ll recall, ended with Delpy dancing, in Paris, in her studio apartment to Nina Simone and tempting Ethan Hawke to miss his flight. 2 Days in Paris ends with some dancing and another plane to catch. The outcome this time is more determined, and perhaps for that reason, a mite less satisfying.