Back in 2007, French actress Julie Delpy stepped behind the camera, and quietly put out 2 Days In Paris, a modest comedy-drama that mixed together the neurotic quirks and cutaways of Annie Hall, and the walk-and-talk navel gazing of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.
But Delpy proved to be much more than the sum of her influences, as the film cut straight to the heart of its central relationship – that of Delpy’s nervous thirtysomething Marion and her nebbish American beau Jack, played by Adam Goldberg – while delivering both a searing portrait of its Parisian surroundings, and a consistently well-observed meet-the-parents farce.
In that latter regard, the ace up Delpy’s sleeve came in the form of Albert Delpy, the director’s real-life father, who played her fictional dad Jeannot with an overweight, lascivious abandon. Flash forward five years, and Jeannot is back (although sadly without Marie Pillet, his on- and off-screen wife, and Delpy’s mother, who passed away in the interim) jetting across the Atlantic to visit his daughter in the Big Apple, as she mounts an ambitious photography exhibition.
Jack is long gone, and Marion now lives with Mingus (Chris Rock), a radio DJ, with his daughter, and her son. Their life together is one of comfort, routine and, whisper it, maturity – and it is ripe for disruption of a distinctly Gallic variety. Accompanying Jeannot is Marion’s sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and ex-lover Manu (Alexandre Nahon, both credited as co-writers), and the trio waste no time causing all sorts of fuss for their hosts.
In the transatlantic switcharound, 2 Days In New York loses much of its predecessor’s perspective. Before, Delpy dumped a paranoid New Yorker in the middle of a satirically stereotypical Paris. Here, the Parisians return the favour, and the script is tweaked accordingly. The comedy, for one, is much broader, as the three visitors are each pushed almost to breaking point as frightfully French caricatures. Rose and Manu are all sex and skunk, smoking weed in the apartment building’s elevator in front of Marion’s neighbours, and utilising Mingus’ electric toothbrush in a late-night bout of coitus.
On the other hand, Delpy Senior steals every scene, cackling with the sort of uninhibited glee that comes from copious wine, old age and a stubborn refusal to dismantle the language barrier. But he is best when paired with Chris Rock’s against-type straight man, who stages a masterclass in reaction shots, running from awkward to flabbergasted, from riled to just plain offended. For all the wildly inappropriate conversation topics and farcical set-pieces, sometimes it is a shared, excruciating silence that provides the most genuine laughs.
However, despite the quick-cut picture postcard montage sequences, sped-up taxicab rides and location shoots in tourist hotspots, Delpy doesn’t cook up a similar commentary on New York to match her rather damning portrait of Paris, apart from a slightly woolly subplot following Marion’s attempts to bait the city’s art scene. Although, after all, what is there to say about New York that hasn’t already been said?
As the film progresses, it seems that this time Delpy has moved on from exploring how relationships can be eroded by doubt, to look more closely at family, both those we suffer, and those we create. The effect, in many ways, is the same. The French characters still chat, bicker and sometimes outright argue in wonderfully bilingual dialogue, as the monolingual American stares on in horror. But Marion, like Delpy, is hoping for more this time around – a ‘love story with a happy ending’.
After evoking Allen in the past, here Delpy plays on his home turf, but in 2 Days In New York, both Marion and Mingus manage to overcome the neurotic and existential complications that trip up Woody’s protagonists. Indeed, Delpy’s film is warm, deeply funny, and unabashedly whimsical. Let’s hope we get to catch up with these characters again in another five years’ time.
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