On paper, Julie Delpy's 2 Days In Paris might well read like a light French farce, full of wacky characters and playful relationship banter that only turns serious toward the end of the film. The reality is much more raw. Playing a thirtysomething couple making a brief stopover in Paris after a vacation to Italy, Delpy (Before Sunrise) and co-star Adam Goldberg snipe at each other with casual venom, refusing to acknowledge or accede to each other's calls for comfort or reassurance. When he says she's special, she shoots back "Like in the retarded way, which is why I'm going out with you." When she gives him more information than he wants about something, he says "It's like dating public television." They both seem a little neurotic and a little self-centered, but mostly, after two years together, they've apparently run out of reasons to be kind. And while their give-and-take is almost playful, both actors put an uncomfortable edge on it, fit to keep viewers squirming with alternate waves of sympathy and disgust.
In her theatrical writing-directing debut (after making some short films and a feature-length video experiment), Delpy admirably resists the urge to give herself the best lines or the more sympathetic character; she narrates, but the story is more from Goldberg's perspective, as he deals awkwardly with her parents (played by Delpy's real-life parents, career actors Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy), her exes, and her hometown. He strongly recalls Glen Hansard in Once, but without the benefit of music: a little lost, a little ill at ease, with a strong personality at odds with his sense of decorum. (The film's rough look and feel heightens the comparison.) While Delpy takes her parents' behavior for granted—particularly her father's grotesque sex jokes and propensity for keying cars—Goldberg tries to suppress his outrage. But he's so obviously histrionic and self-righteous that his grounds for moral authority are weak.
It's hard not to see 2 Days In Paris as a culture-clash movie, with the representative French characters coming across as pushy, smug, and hateful, while Goldberg's American is judgmental and uptight. That puts Delpy—a French native of dual citizenship—squarely in the middle, trying to understand why everyone has to be awful to each other. But that may be an unnecessarily deep reading of what is, on the surface, just an uncomfortable movie about relationships, and how they fracture when people give up on pleasing each other. For all the verbal jokery, it's more tragedy than farce.