Julie Delpy is a lovely and talented French actress who has won the hearts of many art-house-going men for her work in “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” and other small indie productions. As a writer and director, however, she is considerably less accomplished. Her “2 Days in Paris,” in which she also stars, is smug and grating, having the form of the low-key Richard Linklater films she’s worked on but none of the substance.
What it feels like at first is a sub-par Gallic version of “Meet the Parents,” of all things. Delpy plays Marion, a Paris-bred photographer stopping home to see her folks with her American fiance, Jack (Adam Goldberg). Jack is a hypochondriac and a whiner. The in-laws (played by Delpy’s real parents, Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy), are pleasant enough, though they do take extra delight in speaking French to Jack, which they know he doesn’t have a strong grasp of.
Soon the embarrassingly cheap gags at Jack’s expense start up. A nude photo of him is passed around the family. The rabbit that serves as main course at dinner reminds him of his beloved childhood pet. When he feels ill, he pops a thermometer in his mouth, then learns it’s — hardy har har! — a rectal thermometer.
(The Law of Thermometers: There are no oral thermometers in comedies, only rectal ones. Corollary: Characters always assume the opposite is true.)
That train of thought eventually gives way to a new one, and the meat of the film’s story: Jack and Marion keep running into old boyfriends of hers, and Jack is exceedingly jealous. What’s more, it seems he has reason to be. Marion was evidently a bit trampy in recent years, and we find out she’s being deceptive about it now.
And therein lies the film’s chief problem: I don’t like either of these characters. Jack is petty and jealous, and he complains incessantly, with a steady stream of sarcasm that becomes wearying before long. I got a few laughs out of it, but it makes sense that when you talk a mile a minute, some of what you say is bound to be funny, statistically speaking.
Marion, meanwhile, is dishonest and aloof, taking a moral high ground she has no right to. These aren’t characters who are flawed in a relatable, sympathetic way. They’re just shallow jerks.
As a writer-director, Delpy’s most glaring error comes at the end, when the climactic conversation between Jack and Marion isn’t shown to us, but is instead summarized with a voice over. The whole film leads up to it, it resolves everything definitively … and she tells us instead of showing us.
In a way, the film works as a nit-picking examination of a relationship in which each partner’s insecurities and selfishness threaten to capsize the whole thing. Such a story can be told insightfully, in a way that makes the audience wince in recognition. Or it can be told like “2 Days in Paris,” in a way that just gets on everyone’s nerves.
C- (1 hr., 36 min.; about half the dialogue is in French with subtitles; )