11:03 am Aug. 10, 2012
Watching 2 Days in New York, Julie Delpy’s superbly hot-footed, all-in-the-family farce, the sense that her playful 2007 filmmaking debut, 2 Days in Paris, might double as a very persuasive audition reel for a certain Manhattan clarinet player is swiftly replaced by the feeling that Woody Allen should be so lucky.
Not to cast Delpy but to harness some of the genuine neurotic crackle, urban-gonzo storytelling, and juiced-up sensibility that powers her second film.
Once again the tightly bracketed time frame suggested by the title belies the shaggy prerogative of the story it contains. In the five or six years since we last met expatriate Marion (Delpy), then shepherding her New York boyfriend through Paris, she has had a son and subsequently split with his father (Adam Goldberg does not reprise his role here).
Rather than visiting her incorrigibly Gallic family, this time her dad Jeannot (again played by Delpy’s certifiably loony father, Albert Delpy; her mother Marie Pellet died in 2009), sister Rose (Alexia Landeau), and Rose’s smarmy boyfriend Manu (Alexandre Nahon) come to see Marion in New York City, where she lives with her partner Mingus (a nicely relaxed, responsive Chris Rock) and his daughter Willow (Talen Ruth Riley).
Like Paris, New York takes a minute to find its rhythm: Delpy has a crack at domestic and romantic comedy clichés in the opening scenes, where present-day Mingus and Marion make a failed attempt at sex and a flashback to their days as Village Voice colleagues has the latter fretting adorably over her waning desirability.
Attending the French delegation’s tsunamic arrival is the niggling worry that we might spend the next ninety minutes being cued to raise our eyebrows (at Rose’s oversexed advances and Manu’s casual racism) and hold our noses (at the old guy’s attempt to smuggle cheese and sausages in his pants and subsequent refusal to shower) over the usual culture-clash hilarities.
But then an exciting and slightly unexpected thing happens: While playing the simultaneously unhinged and unflappable Marion like a stammering Botticelli—part madwoman, part maestro, and all manner of loveliness—Delpy steps forward as an unusually deft director, and the scenes set inside the mini-crock pot of her apartment begin to bubble.
The considerably better part of those scenes feels like utter nonsense: the script (Delpy shares credit with Landeau and Nahon) chatters along at a screwball pace, talking in absurdist circles and leaving a series of small, shrugging misunderstandings in its wake. Rock and Delpy Senior—who speaks no English and is reduced to much guttural pantomime—in particular do a mean translation tango. Midway through, about when Marion’s family tours an American gym like it’s the local zoo, the plot begins showing vulnerability to terminal slightness.
What grows clearer as New York riffs and tweaks confidently on is that the point and the pleasure of this mordant, decidedly melancholy look at the joys and annoyances of family is in its antic details, from the relentlessly earthy over-shares (dinner conversation has never been quite this intimate; Marion’s family takes an uncomfortable interest in the length of her toddler’s penis) to the perfectly silly performances (Landeau virtually disappears into Rose’s soigné odiousness) to the dismay of watching your partner succumb to a batshit dynamic so ingrained it’s in her DNA. “What is it?” Mingus demands of Marion, leaving polite incredulity behind to Rock out for a moment, “Psycho bitch or not psycho bitch?”
Delpy revives several of Paris’s formal conceits, including a book-ending use of voice-over and quick hits of still-image montage. Those are not as at odds as they might seem with the farcical (or maybe just hysterical) realism of her masterfully edited (by Julie Brenta and Isabelle Devinck) ensemble scenes, where D.P. Lubomir Bakchev’s amped up, agile camera swings and slides between players and several layers of action. Together they’ve create a heightened, neurotic fairy tale quality that finds a pretty delightful culmination in New York’s grand gesture finish. Leading up to that are the movie’s finest moments, wherein Marion, an artist, has a disastrous gallery opening with the symbolic sale of her soul as its centerpiece (the fallout from which involves a cameo too rich to spoil) and takes a bleary walk alone through suddenly garish, menacing streets of Manhattan at night (a stylized sequence that echoes the evocatively lonely vibe of a Paris party scene).
Though we’re inside most of the time, as she did in the last installment Delpy plays with the way family carries its confrontations wherever it goes, capable of turning home base into foreign terrain and vice versa. It would seem that Marion and Mingus’s biggest conflict, as alluded to above, involves the logistics of having sex, but a convincing psychology is wended between all the two-stepping and throwaway lines. Their blended family, as cozy as it seems, has its own anxieties, which are drawn lightly but consistently enough that they eventually form a larger emotional picture.
Delpy has said that 2 Days in New York was inspired by and is dedicated to her mother. Even more vivid than the movie’s maternal inflection is the sense it gives of an artist stepping up and into her own, sensibility cocked and neuroses blazing. From the evidence on hand, Ms. Pellet was a wise and wonderfully silly woman indeed.
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