Oh, the French – all those sausages, cheese and croissants, those accents, the obsession with sex – isn’t it hilarious how French they are? If this was the gentle undercurrent of humour in 2007’s 2 Days in Paris, Julie Delpy’s belated sequel and Sundance hit 2 Days in New York (2011), turns Franco-humour into a central plot line. The results are mixed, yet irresistibly charming.
The 2007 original film saw Delpy channel Woody Allen to create a spiky, witty tale of a turbulent relationship. In 2012, she recounts those 2 Days in a two-minute puppet show for her young son: Marion (Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg – not in the movie) have since separated and she, a budding career artist, is living in the Big Apple with reliable radio presenter Mingus (Chris Rock), who also has a child from a past relationship. Everything is great, until Marion’s French family comes to stay.
How you responded to the onion-clad clan last time round in 2 Days in Paris will determine your tolerance of them in 2 Days in New York. Marion’s father (the amusing Albert Delpy) is still a naughty old man with a disregard for hygiene, her sex-addicted sister Rosie (co-writer Alexis Landeau) is still a psycho, and Rosie’s racist boyfriend (Alexandre Nahon) is too busy doing drugs in front of the kids to realise they’ve wrecked Marion and Mingus’ home.
These are broad comedy brush-strokes – a shame, because Delpy’s appeal comes from more precise dabs of paint. At times, she recaptures her Allen-esque mojo with an insightful voiceover complementing a montage of Manhattan-shot stills, but other moments feel less personal. We are treated to a bizarre blend of sausages being smuggled through customs, jokes about oral sex (guess what Mingus rhymes with?) and philosophical debates about Marion selling her soul as part of her art exhibition. The reason 2 Days in New York somehow hangs together? The star couple.
Playing against type, Rock’s restrained performance is perhaps the best of his career. Even when talking to a cardboard cut-out of Barack Obama, Mingus is a fully-fledged character; his devotion to Marion is endearing and his deadpan anger towards her unwanted guests is genuinely entertaining. Delpy meanwhile, whilst not cementing her offbeat visual style behind the camera, is wonderful on-screen too. With her giant glasses and constant mid-life crises, Marion is a strong, well-written woman, every bit the sexy Alvin Singer to Rock’s Annie Hall – and they’re an equally good match.
It’s unfortunate that talented multi-tasker Delpy didn’t get the chance to tighten her screenplay between takes. By the time 2 Days in New York’s third act arrives, Marion’s bundle of neuroses has unravelled just a bit too far, leading to clunky narration, an overblown climax and an unnecessarily smug indie filmmaker’s cameo. And yet, for all these messy, annoying flaws, Delpy’s selfish lead remains impossible to hate.