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French farce is alive and reasonably well in 2 Days in New York, a madcap inter-family romp that deftly keeps many comic balls in the air for a good hour, before dropping some in the final stretch. Showing a disarming flair for clever, multi-lingual bawdy humor as a writer, director and performer, Julie Delpy follows up her 2007 2 Days in Paris by replacing Adam Goldberg with Chris Rock as the new man in her life, to amusing effect. The popular American comic’s presence should signal a wider audience for this outing, Delpy’s fourth as a director, although the fact that so many of the laugh-producing misunderstandings hinge on Franco-American language and cultural differences will likely keep the film from breaking out much beyond the sophisticated urban market in the U.S.
In introductory material made up of city snapshots, zippy music and confessional narration that unavoidably evokes Woody Allen, Delpy sets the stage for what’s about to come: Photographer Marion (Delpy) and radio personality/journalist Mingus (Rock), who share an apartment with their respective little kids from prior relationships, are awaiting the imminent arrival from Paris of Marion’s family, whom Mingus will meet for the first time. Marion is also having a big gallery opening of her new show in a couple of nights.
In a scene that will serve as a litmus test for viewers’ reactions to the rest of the film, Marion’s relatives are detained at American customs and required to give up the enormous amounts of French cheese and sausage they have hidden in their bags and even in their clothes; anyone finds the visitors’ grumpy disgust at being forced to hand over such cherished items hilarious will likely enjoy what’s to come, while those who don’t get or appreciate the joke are probably free to leave.
Meet the parents, indeed; this gang takes the proverbial gateau. Returning from 2 Days in Paris is old Jeannot (Delpy’s real-life actor dad Albert), a frisky Falstaffian goofball of vast enthusiasms. Then there’s Marion’s sister Rose (co-screenwriter Alexia Landeau), who has a permanent case of sex on the brain and an insatiable appetite for fighting with her sister. To top things off is surprise guest Manu (Alex Nahon), Rose’s presumptuous creep of a boyfriend who clips his toenails at the common table and invites a drug dealer up to the apartment to buy some weed.
Chaos with a particularly French flavor abounds. Rose comes on immediately to Mingus, whose name everyone finds amusing because of the sexual rhyme it occasions; Mingus, who doesn’t speak French, accompanies Jeannot to get a Thai massage and is amazed to find the old fellow, who was born in Saigon, speaking dirty to the help in Vietnamese; to avoid being kicked out of her apartment, Marion concocts a story that she has brain cancer, and Manu behaves so recklessly that he gets deported.
With all these Gallic nutjobs around, Mingus is the straightest person in the crowd,which is an interesting and rather appealing position in which to find Rock. Mingus’s own peculiarity is to retreat to his study and speak directly to a life-sized cardboard cutout of President Obama, which gives the comic actor a chance to ruminate on life in something resembling familiar fashion.
The best of the humor is verbal and attitudinal, all delivered at a rapid clip in overlapping languages that Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks would have admired. The comic highlight is a dinner dominated by escalating discord between thesisters; Delpy and Landeau, both as writers and performers, exactly catch the dynamic of siblings who simply can’t help themselves from criticizing one another, so intimately to they know their mutual foibles, while those around them uselessly try to intercede.
The film begins to slip off the rails an hour in at the gallery opening of Marion’s photography, where the artist, who has heretofore exhibited no self-destructive tendancies, stupidly denigrates herself and then flagrantly insults an important critic in a way that seems entirely out of character.
The big moment of the opening was meant to be a sort of ultimate existential event: Marion intends to sell her soul. But instead of turning this oddly amusing notion into a big climactic scene in which, presumably, interested bidders could have debated the value of such an exchange in comically highfalutin religious, ethical and philosophical terms, Marion flees the gallery to meet with the man who has already made the purchase—a wealthy downtown hipster played by none other than Vincent Gallo—in an exchange that brings the film’s temperature down considerably.
Thereafter, Delpy hastily wraps up the various story strands in far too convenient a fashion, just sending everyone home and trying to reestablish her connection with Mingus, who has concluded that being around her family has turned his lady into a “psycho-bitch.”
Setting a vibrant tone as director and actor, Delpy gets equally energetic contributions from her entire cast, each member of which is colorful and distinctively amusing. Her New York is a riot of color, diverse music and impulsive personalities, which combine to give her film a rich fabric and sense of life, however chaotic it may be.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)
Cast: Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Alex Nahon, Dylan Baker, Kate Burton, Daniel Bruhl, Emily Wagner
Director: Julie Delpy
Screenwriters: Julie Delpy, Alexia Landeau, story by Julie Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Alex Nahon, based on original characters by Julie Delpy
Producers: Christophe Mazodier, Scott Franklin, Julie Delpy, Ulf Israel, Hubert Toint, Jean-Jacques Neira
Executive producers: Helge Sasse, Mathias Triebel
Director of photography: Lubomir Bakchev
Production designer: Judy Rhee
Costume designer: Rebecca Hofherr
Editor: Isabelle Devnick
Music: Julie Delpy
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