Julie Delpy's '2 Days in New York' follows her '2 Days in Paris'
by David Lamble
What is it that bugs me about the new satire 2 Days in New York, French provocateur Julie Delpy's follow-up to her sensationally funny 2007 chapter on the Franco-American culture wars, 2 Days in Paris? Is it the absence of Daniel Bruhl's seductive "anti-globalization fairy?" Is it the miscasting of Delpy's latest put-upon boyfriend, the emotionally stolid Chris Rock replacing the earlier film's hilariously grouchy Adam Goldberg? Or is it my growing irritation with yet another dialogue-driven comedy hobbled by tiny, almost unreadable subtitles?
"Who's my little sweet koala bear?"
"Is that what I have to say to get laid?"
Given the generally deplorable state of modern film comedy, it's perhaps churlish of me to nit-pick a perfectly acceptable, slightly avant-garde piece that is merely guilty of aspiring to so much more than it achieves. As Stephen Holden so wittily observes in The New York Times, writer/director Delpy has an armada of defecating pigeons to handle critics who can't see beyond her cinematic faux pas to the grander vision just beyond her reach.
What is that vision? In both films, Delpy's Marion, a 30something visual artist with trans-Atlantic ambitions, finds herself rebelling against her non-housebroken family's hygienic, erotic and culinary eccentricities. In 2 Days in Paris, Marion enjoyed shocking her American Jewish boyfriend Jack (Goldberg), who wanted so badly to be hip, with her aging-rebel dad's (Jeannot, played by Delpy's real dad Albert) wildly inappropriate glee at cooking bunny heads and keying the cars of upscale yuppies who dare to park on the sidewalk. Marion's easy sexual chemistry with Jack was offset by her shameless joy in how uneasy he was with learning about her long line of ex-boyfriends. Delpy completed the emasculation of Jack by having Bruhl's fairy hold his hand during a cafe demonstration. The result was a hilarious attraction/repulsion vibe between Jack and Marion that at times rivaled the best of 1970s Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.
In 2 Days in New York, Marion has replaced Jack with an equally insecure, desperately seeking bohemian approval, yet socially conservative African American comic/radio talk-host Mingus (Rock), who visibly blanches when Marion's dad, just off the plane, imbues him with three pecks on the cheek. French dad comes literally burdened with other cultural baggage – American customs at JFK airport searches him for contraband and finds 30 pounds of smelly sausage, which prompts the first of many Marion/Mingus dialogues.
"My dad doesn't want to take a shower – he thinks it depletes the immune system. He took a shower a few days ago in Paris – he's going to smell."
"He already smells – of smuggled sausages."
Dad also protests his accommodations at Mingus and Marion's tiny sublet.
"No privacy – where am I supposed to jack off?"
"That's disgusting. I'll put up some screens so you can jack off."
Then there's the visiting sister Marion hates, Alexia Landeau (Rose), and her oafish, dope-smoking boyfriend, Alex Nahon (Manu), who delights in making sport of Mingus. "Mingus rhymes with cunnilingus."
As amusing as Marion's "filthiest French family in the world" gags are, they're only place-holders for her larger ambition to rub American and French prejudices and cultural biases up against each, revealing just how myopic each nation is about the other. A promising subplot emerges as Marion's family ruins an encounter Mingus has been hoping to secure with the people close to President Obama, his personal hero. In fact, some of Rock's strongest moments come in standup comedy-like shout-outs to a life-size cardboard poster of Obama he keeps in his study. Depending on the results of the election, we may come to view the Mingus/Obama bits with a bitterly tinged nostalgia.
Chris Rock – whose terrific comedy career has contrasted so sharply with his uneven choice of movie vehicles: so good, for instance, in the African American/white fashions documentary Good Hair – is unable to match the mix of weird insecurities and macho bluster/angst that made Adam Goldberg such a rock in 2 Days in Paris. Rock is a competent if unexciting performer who does a passable job of reflecting Delpy's nutty assessment of her French family. "They're like Waiting for Godot in reverse. Wherever you look, they're lurking in the corner."
Just when you fear 2 Days in New York will completely lose its comic/thematic moorings, Delpy brings the ship back to harbor with a juicy third-act subplot where Marion sells her soul at an art show for $5,000, to the devil, played by a deliciously self-parodying Vincent Gallo. But 2 Days in New York should be taken as a sophomore-jinx second film by an artist who perhaps has a bit too much to say. There are those moments when Delpy fully realizes her aspiring post-feminist Woody Allen sensibility with delightfully self-deprecating, Woody-worthy rants. "I'm 38, fat, and struggling with incontinence. My ex didn't even want blow jobs anymore – my specialty!" (Opens Friday.)