Before Sunrise, released in 1995, gave flesh to a Yank's fantasy of worldly European womanhood: Delpy's Celine materialized on a passenger train for one sweet Viennese night of courtship, as if willed from the fevered dreams above a thousand hostel beds. As one-night-with-a-French-chick fantasies go, Linklater's brief encounter was perfect for being exactly that. The lovers went their separate ways; even when they hooked up nine years later in Before Sunset, their time together was kept brisk -- just long enough not to spoil the daydream with messy entanglement.
But romance is easy when you've got 12 hours in Vienna and the sky's lit by carnival lights. In 2 Days in Paris, writer-director-star Delpy explores what happens when you've spent the past few days in Venice with explosive diarrhea, and when the next 48 hours bring only language barriers, close quarters with the parents, and a virtual Yellow Pages of ex-lovers.
The setup of Meet the Parents travels across cultures, Jewish-panic subtext and all. The outsider here is New York interior designer Jack (Adam Goldberg), visiting the folks of his girlfriend Marion (Delpy) for the first time. The trip is a steady comedy of embarrassment -- constricting condoms, flagrant intrusions from Mom (Marie Pillet, Delpy's mother), a damning snapshot of Jack naked with helium balloons tied to his wang. "He's not like the morons you usually bring home," barks Dad Jeannot (Albert Delpy, the director's father), sounding none too convinced.
Worse, those previous morons are everywhere -- an artist (Adan Jodorowsky, Alejandro's son), whose conversational icebreaker is as bizarre as his work; an oily poet (Alex Nahon), who casually drops that he gave Marion her first orgasm. Jack isn't appeased when Marion says she lied to the poet to soothe his feelings; she told him the same thing. That's the rub, isn't it? Two classic male hang-ups in collision -- the appeal of a woman with experience vs. Thou Shalt Have No Other Fuckbuddies Before Me.
As writer-director, Delpy makes some of the usual first-feature mistakes, mostly falling back on narration as a crutch -- especially near the end, when Jack and Marion are on the verge of breaking up and we want to hear what they're saying. But Delpy shows Linklater's influence in her willingness to let actors work and walk at length, and she has an unusually playful style for an actor-turned-filmmaker.
She all but hands the movie to co-star Goldberg, who captures how our loved ones go from endearing to unendurable and back to endearing. It may be Marion who narrates, but it's Jack who gives the Paris trip its running commentary track of muttered worries, one-liners, and ugly-American wisecracks.
I have to wonder where they will be in nine years.