Julie Delpy's Tangled Beaus

"It's in our making to always be longing for something else," says Delpy, best known for the films "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset." She again explores love's paradoxes in her directorial debut, "2 Days in Paris." (By Pouya Dianat -- The Washington Post)
By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 19, 2007

Just FYI, we are not planning to describe Julie Delpy as "ethereal." We thought we should warn you, because if you've read any interviews with the French actress since her gossamer-smart role in "Before Sunrise," you're probably expecting the E-word.

But today Delpy has food poisoning (bad eggs), and even though she's rallied enough to manage a steamed carrot at the Blue Duck Tavern, she is not quite looking ethere--

"Zey loaded zis with so much butter zat I am going to zrow up. Right now."

In fact, she looks sort of green.


What to talk about with a nauseated gamine when you are supposed to be talking about her directorial debut, the romantic comedy "2 Days in Paris," but fear she might zrow up in the bread basket? (She doesn't.) You decide to find a topic Julie Delpy enough to make her forget about queasiness. You decide to ask her about relationships.

Because it's hard to think Delpy without thinking relationships. "Before Sunrise," that 1995 talkathon through a single Vienna night co-starring Ethan Hawke, defined first-date romance for the cerebral Gen-X'er. Its 2004 sequel, "Before Sunset" (Delpy co-wrote), caught up with the will-they-or-won't-they couple nine years later in Paris as they waxed poetic on the meaning of love.

"2 Days in Paris," which Delpy, 37, also wrote, produced, edited and composed music for, is "Sunrise"/"Sunset" redux -- almost. This time Delpy is Marion, a Parisian turned New Yorker photographer on vacation with her live-in boyfriend, Jack (Adam Goldberg channeling Woody Allen). The bickering pair decides to stop for a weekend in Marion's home town. Meeting of the parents -- and the ex-boyfriends -- and general "are we even supposed to be together?" convos ensue.

It's a gritty view of relationships. It's advanced Julie Delpy. It's decidedly un-Hollywood, and Delpy says it parallels her current view of what it means to be with another person. "There's a point in every relationship where you have to deal with everyday life," she says. "You start to live with each other and then there are these little things about the way he folds his underwear." Love, in this world, is not about finding your soul mate but rather about making the concerted effort to stay with someone, warts and all.

If it looks natural, it should. Goldberg is Delpy's real-life ex -- they dated in the late '90s. During filming, he says, he'd periodically suggest invoking their romantic history: "Hey, let's throw that up in there!" Though no specific brawls made the final cut, "we both have issues that, in exaggerated form, show up in the film," he says.

In "2 Days," Marion and Jack grapple with that grown-up lesson because that's what they are: grown-ups. "They're in their mid-to-late 30s," Delpy says. "It's time to commit. It's time to put those reasons for not making the commitment aside."

Hawke, e-mailing from Australia, where he's filming a movie, describes Julie-on-love this way: "Julie cares about relationships and values them. . . . This makes her very empathetic and compassionate." He adds that she "has created a lot of drama in her life from which to learn and draw from." Hmm.

"I do find relationships to be a lot of work," Delpy says. In 2004 she swore to London's Sunday Mail that she would never live with someone "as it would drive me insane." In the same interview, she scoffed at the idea of children, claiming she could barely care for a cat.

But wait, she's recently moved in with her long-term boyfriend, a musician she's identified only as "Mark." Kids? She wants them, definitely.

What happened? For one, a chance meeting with a former beau. Instead of giving Delpy the what-ifs, the reunion helped her realize she'd made the guy into "a fantasy." "Some people live like that. They move on and get married but always in the back of their minds is the one that got away. It's in our making to always be longing for something else. I'm trying to change my attitude. I'm not longing for anything other than the ability to live in the moment."

So anti-ethereal. Subscribing to a practical, this-love-stuff-is- hard view of romance requires giving up on the fairy tale. And we sort of wanted Delpy to have the fairy tale, to settle for nothing less than a brooding Ethan Hawke and for impromptu strolls through cobblestone cities. After all, this is the woman who in "Before Sunrise" mused, "If there's any kind of God, it would be in this little space in between us . . . in the attempt of understanding someone. . . . It's almost impossible to succeed, but who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt."

Roger Ebert wrote in his review of that film that the two characters "stand outside their generation, and especially outside its boring insistence on being bored." The rest of us may settle for mundanity. Can't she get magic?

But instead, it seems, she goes for Goldberg and on-screen arguments about toxic bathroom mold. Midway through the film, we're not even sure we want the characters to patch things up.

Bring this up with Delpy and she laughs. She admits that Marion and Jack are "totally dysfunctional. But I think most relationships are. Even my parents' relationship."

The mistake, she says, would be to confuse dysfunctionality with unhappiness. After all, her parents -- both actors who, incidentally, play her parents in "2 Days" -- have been married 40 years. "But they scream at each other constantly!" she giggles. "I just called them 30 minutes ago and they were arguing about something else. It's so funny because my mom will start to cry and then my dad will say something funny and she'll laugh. I've learned not to get too involved in the fighting because two minutes later, it's over. They've moved on and you're still emotional."

"Julie is very attuned to people," says Richard Linklater, who directed Delpy in "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset." Both he and Hawke mention her impressive ability to learn from her experiences in human interaction and use them to evolve.

She says she has evolved into a person who is hopeful about the idea of love, but realizes that it is endlessly complex. "I do believe in love forever with the same person, but then I question it because I'm skeptical. . . . I go back and forth every day."

When Hawke, who was going through a divorce with Uma Thurman during the filming of "Before Sunset," is asked to describe the best relationship advice that Delpy ever gave him, he writes in reply: "The idea of Julie as some kind of sage couples counselor is absolutely hysterical to me! She is deep and she is wise, but she is also (at times) completely NUTS!"

Does that bother Delpy? Hardly. She may be the thinking person's answer to Meg Ryan, but when it comes down to it, she says: "I know nothing. That's why I make these movies about relationships. I'm looking for answers, but I have none."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company