2 Days in New York (2012)
2 Days in New York (USA) Directed by Julie Delpy Written by Julie Delpy; Alex Landau Starring July Delpy; Chris Rock; Albert Delpy; Alexia Landeau; Alexandre Nahon; Talen Ruth Riley; Owen Shipman
Forty three year old Julie Delpy co-writes (with Alex Landeau), directs, composes, and stars in this follow-up to her 2007 film 2 Days in Paris, in which she co-starred with real life ex Adam Goldberg.
This is the fifth feature the talented Delpy has directed, but she was a child actor, and appeared at age fourteen in Jean Luc Godard’s Detective (1983). Her career consists of some notable roles - in Kieslowski’s Three Colors (1993); Agnieiza Holland’s Europa Europa (1990); Killing Zoe (1993); a stint on ER (2001); and perhaps most famously as Celine opposite Ethan Hawke in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995); Before Sunset (2004); and the upcoming Before Midnight (2013).
2 Days in New York was a surprisingly funny, odd, anti-romantic comedy. Delpy used her real life family in key roles (her mother and father were experienced actors) to great effect. Goldberg provided amusing relief as the fish out of water, with the world around him conspiring to defeat him at every pass. Delpy’s mom Marie sadly died in 2009 and in the film Marion’s mom has also passed away, leaving her already quirky father Jeannot (Albert Delpy) a bit adrift.
This time out Marion is involved with live-in boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock), an African American radio host. Both Marion, a working artist, and Mingus, have a child by other people, and their already complicated life is further thrown off kilter by the arrival of Marion’s father; sister Rose (again played by Alexia Landeau); and her boyfriend (Marion’s ex) Manu (Alexandre Nahon), who pull into town for a visit, expecting to stay at the already crowded apartment.
Both 2 Days films owe no small debt to Woody Allen, and so the location of the follow up further re-inforces the connection. Delpy’s relationship with the city is clearly not as intimate, though she did attend NYU film school and has spent time living there. While Paris was a major element in the first film, New York seems a bit more incidental. There are scenes taking place in Central Park, and in cabs, galleries, apartments, and the like, though understanding the city and the people in it are obviously not part of Delpy’s mission.
This latest is more self-consciosly offbeat and traditionally structured than the first, with the feeling that the writers were intent on creating a series of amusingly offbeat situations where Marion’s uncouth family members stir the pot and add stress to her life and her relationship with Mingus. Because New York is familiar to the foil (Mingus) it is the wildcard family who are the fish out of water, which does something different to the dynamic, perhaps even muddying the focus of the comedy.
Chris Rock has never been much of an actor, though he manages to float here by refraining from the mugging that constitutes the majority of his performances past. Like his buddy Adam Sandler, Rock is much better when he stops trying to be funny and actually allows himself to be in the moment occasionally (anotherwords, acts). Films with elements of drama (ala Sandler in Punch Drunk Love and Funny People or Rock in I Think I Love My Wife) seem to allow these two to step away from their comedic personas and approach pretending to be actual human beings instead of behaving as if they are participating in an extended SNL sketch. With that said one can only expect so much, and so the relationship between Mingus and Delpy is fated never to extend beyond the surface.
As an actress Delpy is always solid regardless of the material, but in places her own writing lets her down. The film seems to be crying out for more in-depth exploration of some of the potentially interesting complicated relationships that exist between her and her widowed father; her and her sister; and her and her upper class in-laws, though in almost every instance the film settles for easy jokes to paint the picture of a harried woman struggling with existential questions we’re not convinced she cares about. The most obvious example of this is the rather obvious and ill-conceived bit about Marion selling her soul to the highest bidder at her art show. Though there is something to be said for letting race alone, there also seems to have been a wasted opportunity for some meaningful conversation about that subject here, particularly given France’s own modern struggles with related issues.
The film is no doubt amusing in places (and was likely better on the page), but the best comedies are funny because we buy the characters and sympathize with their plight. If one was a fan of the first film one goes in wanting to like the characters and anxious to see what has happened to them in the interim, but this one is so light and breezy that it always feels as if it is in danger of sailing away into the sky even we watch.