2007. Julie Delpy
Nobody is a bigger fan of Before Sunset than me, so when Tara expressed interest in seeing this movie, I decided to give it a shot. The trailer didn’t do much for me and I have a slight prejudice against female directors anyway, but who knows right? Delpy proves herself to not be inept at the helm of this romantic comedy, and her complete commitment to the film has to be commended, but that’s maybe as far as I’ll go. Along with directing, she wrote the script, stars as Marion, co-produced it, edited it and composed some original songs for the soundtrack. And she cast her real-life parents, ex-boyfriend and cat to play their respective fictional versions. I suppose it’s a compliment then that the film doesn’t come off as an exercise in vanity and shows some promise for her as a filmmaker (she is an Academy Award nominated writer let’s not forget).
The story follows Marion and her boyfriend Jack as they spend two days in Paris running into Marion’s ex-boyfriends, parents and friends, all of which results in their committment to each other being tested. Fine, sounds good on paper, but the actual result is kind of like reading some girl’s diary. There are moments of real insight and truth, but there are also some lame drawings and poetry over here that the author will no doubt be embarrassed about later. Too many times, Delpy resorts to flashbacks or painful narration to help tell her story and even uses text written on the screen to describe what’s going on. Inventive? No, sorry, it’s just dumb. One is only ever really compelled to break out that diary and write their thoughts when they feel particularly enraged or mistreated or elated and so they often come across as an exaggerated, hyperbolic version of themself to any stranger that might sneak a peek. So to do Delpy and Goldberg, whose characters spend the entire runtime yelling, arguing or bickering in faux-witty fashion that betrays the great possibilities for honest moments that lie beneath the surface.
For example, Goldberg’s character gives some obnoxious, fat Americans wearing Mickey Mouse sweaters fake directions to the Louvre in the opening scene as a way of teaching them a lesson for being fat and obnoxious and wearing Mickey Mouse sweaters. Then at the end of the film, he runs into them again, wearing the same clothes, only they are muddy and battered and beaten and their smiles have been replaced with frowns. Sorry Julie, but even if the rest of your movie hits nothing but the right notes, you’ve lost all sense of honesty by including a joke like that. And when a character calling himself a fairy (the flying kind) and spouts off wisdom to Jack when he most needs it, it feels less like a clever narrative device and more like a female writer not having a clue what to do with her male character when he’s by himself.
Harping on the negative is easy, but there are things to like about the film as well. The performances are pretty good and the story isn’t afraid to tackle small issues in a big way. When the denoument comes and you’re left unsatisfied again by Delpy’s insistance on narration to do her dirty work, you still feel like you’ve seen two people reach an agreement with each other. Even if they’re conversations and decisions don’t quite have their feet in reality, they at least feel like a real couple.