Film Review – 2 Days in New York
I’ll just come out and say it: I’m an idiot. It turns out that the only thing I can remember seeing Julie Delpy in is An American Werewolf in Paris. Looking at her listing on IMDb, I notice that I’ve seen some other projects she’s been involved with, but they were long ago, and I really didn’t take note of her presence. And yes, this means that I have been putting off watching Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (I’m not an Ethan Hawke fan), and—more importantly—I have not seen any of the films she’s directed, such as 2 Days in Paris or The Countess. This is a big mistake, because her new film, 2 Days in New York, is awesomely funny, and I left the press screening thinking about how I couldn’t wait to see it again with my husband.
2 Days in New York is about New York couple Marion (Julie Delpy) and Mingus (Chris Rock), and how they navigate the influences of race (she’s white, he’s black), culture (she’s French, he’s American), and family (her family is nuts, his family is disapproving) on their relationship. They each have a child from a previous relationship—Mingus has a daughter, Willow, and Marion a son, Lulu—and although Marion’s ex has coached Lulu to refer to Mingus as “fake daddy,” everybody seems to be dealing the with the situation as best as they can. Mingus is a writer for the Village Voice with a couple of radio shows, and Marion is an artist who is preparing for a major show. Life seems to be going well for them, and while things are never perfect, they are at least pretty good. And then Marion’s family comes to visit.
From the moment of their arrival, things begin to spiral out of control. Marion’s father, Jeannot (Albert Delpy), is detained in customs for trying to smuggle sausages and cheese into the country, and then refuses to shower to remove the rather strong sausage smell that he emits. Marion’s exhibitionist sister, Rose (Alexia Landeau), not only gets naked in front of Mingus within an hour of her arrival at their apartment, but has also unexpectedly brought her completely asinine boyfriend (who is also Marion’s ex-lover), Manu (Alex Nahon), with her. Manu proceeds to invite a drug dealer to Mingus’s apartment and conduct a pot deal in front of the whole family, including the kids. As their visit progresses and Marion’s show gets closer, her behavior around her family becomes so irrational, Mingus is left wondering if it is worth it to be in a relationship with someone so complicated. Or crazy.
I loved this movie. It owes a huge debt to Woody Allen, and Delpy acknowledges that fact in the opening scenes, which could have come straight out of Annie Hall or Manhattan. But her tone is much lighter and goofier than Allen’s New York movies, and while her city is also populated with artists, writers and intellectuals, some of them are Black. There are also Indians and Latinos, and an insufferable upper class white couple who could have been friends with an older Alvy Singer. It’s a great cast, and the kind of group that might actually exist in real life. Chris Rock is wonderful as Mingus, not quite a straight man, but a hapless guy who cannot believe the chaos that has been unleashed in his home. I hope Rock gets more roles like this, because he isn’t just funny, he’s able to convey the complexity of a man who has just had everything in his life turned upside down. Delpy is also great as Marion, who just wants to love her family and sell some art. But she cannot control her impulses around her sister, and reverts to a more devolved state where she is just constantly acting out without considering the consequences.
2 Days in New York is funny, but also very silly. There are improbable plot twists; President Obama used as an expository device; one unexpected and slightly odd cameo; the selling of a soul; characters who are ridiculously clueless; bad art; hormonal imbalances; and some fairly interesting parenting choices. This film is not particularly original—its message is that family is both imperfect and important—but it shows a world that is colored by Delpy’s highly personal viewpoint. Her character is quirky, but not in a manic pixie dream girl way. She’s a grown-up, complicated person who finds herself out of control and is wondering how to set things back on the right path. I see a lot of movies that just follow the conventions of their genre without adding anything new, and this film is not one of them; it manages to take a plot scenario that has nothing left to give and breathes new life into it by filtering the story through a character and a world we want to know more about.
Final Grade: A-