Sex and the City of Lights_lowres

Jack (Adam Goldberg) is in for a bit of culture shock when he visits his girlfriend Marion's (Julie Delpy) hometown.

What if there was a French female Woody Allen. Well, then, she'd be Julie Delpy, I think. Delpy was nominated for a best screenplay Oscar for Before Sunrise in 2005, along with collaborators director Richard Linklater and co-star Ethan Hawke, but few of us presumed she was a driving force on that project. From what I know now, she might have been. Delpy's current picture is 2 Days in Paris, and she's not just a driving force on this project, she's a tour de force. She wrote, directed, produced, edited and starred in the flick, and it's an increasingly satisfying winner.

Like Annie Hall, 2 Days in Paris is the story of a relationship on the skids delivered with a dash of heart and a steady stream of laughs. Delpy plays Marion, a French photographer now living in New York with her designer boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg). After two years together their relationship has stalled, and they have gone to Europe to get it jump started. But Jack turns out to be the very vacationer Woody Allen likes to play. Jack is sure the food is making him sick and, moreover, that he's coming down with a sinus infection. Oh yes, and a migraine. The rooms aren't clean. He isn't in the mood for sex. He's decided that he wants to take 10 pictures of everything. Marion and Jack can't ever do anything because they have to immediately stop doing it to take a picture of it. Then they go to Paris where things get a lot worse.

The Paris stop is supposed to be just to say hello to Marion's parents before returning stateside, but it's in Paris that the couple's commitment is put to the ultimate test: family and ex-boyfriends. The trial starts with family. Marion has long ago learned how to endure her sister's treacherous jealousy and her parents' considerable eccentricities, but Jack, of course, hasn't got a clue. The fact that his French is limited to bonjour and au revoir, makes him pretty much helpless. Marion's daffy father is insulted that Jack is Frenchless and subjects Jack to a very funny interrogation about all things French.

Marion's family makes Jack supremely uncomfortable, but then he makes the mistake of leaving their house, and in every doorway and in every room at every party is another man that Marion once had sex with. Parodying the stereotype of French promiscuity, all Marion's former men take every opportunity to describe in as much detail as possible just what they did to what part of Marion's body and how she repaid their favors. Marion has insinuated that her former boyfriends were few in number and that her sexual experience was minimal. But to Adam it suddenly seems that Marion has committed sexual gymnastics with the entire male population of Paris under age 40.

Delpy's script is notably skillful with Jack's character. He's so whiny at the beginning we wonder if we're going to be able to tolerate an entire movie in his presence. He's funny in his complaints, exactly as Woody Allen's comparable characters are funny in theirs, but we don't like him at all. Delpy saves him by displaying his vulnerability. Jack has taken Marion a bit for granted, we gather, and he feels overwhelmed when she lands on her native turf. I have never particularly warmed to Goldberg as an actor previously, but he's very good here. A lot of his performance consists of silent reactions to situations he can't understand. Marion berates a racist cab driver who thinks Jack is an Arab, and Jack's eyes dart back and forth between them trying to figure out what is going on. The same thing happens again when Marion attacks a former boyfriend she accuses of sleeping with 12-year-old Thai prostitutes. She's livid in dealing with the old lover, but pauses every 30 seconds to assure a baffled and increasingly terrified Jack that she's got everything under control. The effect is hilarious, all the more so because Goldberg never overplays his reactions.

Annie Hall does a better job of illustrating why Annie and Alvy were together in the first place. Delpy's Marion is messy and goofy and sometimes seriously out of control, but she's a luminous life force, and even when we start feeling for Jack, we never grasp what Marion sees in him. But we can grant Delpy this flaw. It's her first film. Annie Hall was Allen's seventh.