Well, at least she got rid of Adam Goldberg.
Writer-director-star Julie Delpy follows up her giddy little 2007 trifle 2 Days in Paris with another agreeable farce. I guess you could say 2 Days in New York is sort of rambling and sloppy overall, playing somewhere well within the upper register of a certain kind of specifically French clowning, yet there’s something unassumingly sweet about Delpy’s pictures that will grow on you if you let it.
A quick, goofy puppet show at the outset informs us that things didn’t work out between Delpy’s scatterbrained photographer Marion and Goldberg, her co-star in the previous picture. It’s now five years later, and she’s settled down with Chris Rock’s rather tellingly named Mingus, a slightly uptight public radio host who likes to share his more private thoughts (as well as Rock’s most relaxed onscreen moments) with a cardboard cutout of Barack Obama, standing proudly in his office.
So far, so smooth, and these two lovebirds seem to have found a way for their children from previous arrangements to all coexist within a New York apartment that, for once, actually seems to match the characters’ well-off but not super-rich economic standing.
Alas, Marion has a gallery show opening tomorrow, and her insane family is en route from France. As you may or may not remember from the previous picture, and these kinds of deliberately slight comedies don’t linger long in the mind, they’re kind of a handful. A refresher course arrives in short order when Marion’s father (played by Delpy’s own dad, Albert) gets busted at customs attempting to smuggle massive quantities of sausage and cheese into the country, taped to his body. Speaking not a word of English, but never for one moment letting that interfere with his libido, the old man seems to be carrying on in his own private movie that creates a great cacophony within the margins. Also arriving are Marion’s slatternly sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and her boorish new boyfriend, Manu (Alex Nahon), who, in the spirit of sisterly competition, also happens to be one of Marion’s more regrettable former flames.
Otherwise stable relationships always have a funny way of flaking out whenever extended family becomes involved, and both of Delpy’s 2 Days pictures are happy to sit back and observe the stress fractures that ensue. Rose is prone to prancing around the apartment making eyes at her sister’s new beau, and while I’m really not sure what she and Manu are doing in their bedroom with Mingus’ electric toothbrush, I am also fairly certain I do not want to know. Misunderstandings occur, along with a poorly planned pot deal and all the classically Gallic door-slamming we expect from such circumstances.
But the big revelation here is Rock, an absolutely brilliant standup comic who always seems so stiff and uncomfortable onscreen that in some dreadful past projects, I have openly pitied him. It was a smart call by Delpy—who wrote the role specifically for the comedian—to cast Rock as a guy who’s pretty much just stiff and uncomfortable all the time. Mingus serves as the straight man and our audience surrogate, so it’s a howl to watch Rock’s awkward, incessant humiliation and eye-rolling slow burns. The coiled anger of his comedy routines is simmering just there under the surface, but good manners won’t allow him to lash out at his girlfriend’s family. At least not yet.
Less successful is the subplot regarding Marion’s art exhibit, which is mainly a collection of her morning-after photographs taken in bed with the men in her life over the years. (Any Hollywood star would worry that this makes her look like a whore. So good thing for all of us that Julie Delpy is French.) To boost attendance, she’s also offered to sell her soul to the highest bidder during the show. Of course this is just a flimsy piece of paper that says it is her soul, but existential crises arrive sometimes when you least expect them. It’s a spurious conceit that only pays off thanks to one of the most inspired cameos I have seen in quite some time, the sheer genius of which will presumably be lost on any non-art-movie nerds who happened to have wandered into the theater.
Nobody will ever mistake 2 Days in New York for great comedy, but I enjoyed the madcap looseness and consistently high spirits. Delpy aims low and consistently hits the target. It’s broad, silly, but with a crucial touch of messy humanity. Mostly, I just enjoyed spending time with these people, which is a rare thing to be able to say about a film these days.