French Knot

film yorkRomance vs family in funny Franco-American ‘2 Days In New York’

French actress/auteur Julie Delpy is a one-woman art film industry. A cult favorite after collaborating with director Richard Linklater and co-star Ethan Hawke on the improv romances Before Sunset and Before Sunrise, she’s since branched out to write and direct her own indie films. The most successful was the cross-cultural romantic comedy, 2 Days In Paris, from 2007, in which Delpy played a transplanted Frenchwoman bringing her New Yorker boyfriend home to Paris to meet her wacky family. As a filmmaker, Delpy displayed wit and style, but the film was ruined by a club-footed performance by Adam Goldberg as her obnoxious boyfriend.

Delpy’s new comedy, 2 Days In New York, is the sequel. Delpy plays the same character, back living in New York and suffering a weekend visit from her relations, all played by the same actors as in the previous film (including Delpy’s real-life father, Albert Delpy). But this time, Delpy and her character have had the sense to ditch Goldberg and replace him with Chris Rock as the new boyfriend, and the film is much lighter, fresher, and funnier for the change. Although he essentially plays straight man to the invading Gauls throughout, Chris Rock playing straight is funnier than most comic actors’ entire arsenal of jokes and shtick.

Plotwise, Delpy stars as Marion, an artist whose medium is photography, living in New York City. Her boyfriend, Mingus (Rock), hosts a talk radio show and contributes regularly to a couple of NPR programs. (They met when both were working for the Village Voice, to make their hipster credentials complete.) Each has a small child by a previous relationship, and they all live together in a Brownstone apartment near Central Park.

As grounded and dependable as Mingus is, he’s unprepared for the culture-shock of Marion’s family. Her recently widowed father, Jeannot (Albert Delpy), is a gnomish old goat whose insinuating tone and hand gestures totally mystify the non-French-speaking Mingus. Sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) traipses around barely clad and reduces Marion to fits of childish bickering and slapping whenever they’re together; she’s also brought along a dimbulb boyfriend, Manu (Alex Nahon), also one of Marion’s exes, who invites a drug dealer from the park into the apartment to score some dope, and chirps, “I would have been a cool black man!” (Landeau and Nahon also share story credit with Delpy.)

Delpy mines clashing sexual mores for laughs. There’s no onscreen sex, but a lot of talk, especially among the French about sexual appetites and the shape, health, and function of sexual organs. (In one funny scene, Mingus and Marion, on the other side of the wall, try not to imagine how Rose and Manu are employing a noisy electric toothbrush in foreplay.) Delpy never suggests the French are more sophisticated, just more obsessed with the subject (giggling like schoolchildren every time someone says “Mingus” because it rhymes with “cunnilingus”). Meanwhile, her great idea that Marion signs a contract selling her soul to the devil as an art project sort of fizzles away to nothing. (Despite the sardonic presence of actor/filmmaker Vincent Gallo in a cameo.) Most often, Delpy plays the Woody Allen card, casting herself as the neurotic New Yorker trying to get a grip on her life.

But, like Allen, she has to beware of self-absorption; too much navel-gazing leads to some claustrophobic moments of Marion just ranting and whining. This happens mostly when she’s trying to justify her sibling bickering and other family pressures to Mingus, although there’s also one painful scene at her art gallery opening when her response to a pretentious art critic (is there any other kind, in the movies?) is not to engage him in any kind of debate or dialogue, or even crack one-liners, but simply to unload a screed of vitriol worthy of a petulant pre-teen at him, and stalk off.

However, Delpy’s filmmaking is inventive, from quick-cut backstory montages to the charming hand-puppet play that frames the story. And Rock is terrific, navigating his way through the lunacy (especially alone in his office, confiding in his mentor and confidante, a life-sized cardboard standee of Barack Obama). Delpy’s sensibility is offbeat enough to be interesting, and the wider she expands her focus in future, the more accomplished her films will be.

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