Culture Clashes Pop Up Over '2 Days In New York'

Aug 9, 2012

There's so little craziness today in American movies — even American independent movies. Filmmakers are so busy trying to look as if they're not trying too hard that their strained effortlessness is sometimes the only thing that comes through.

That's not true, thank goodness, of actress-turned-director Julie Delpy, at least not in the case of her twin comedies, 2007's 2 Days in Paris and, now, its sort-of sequel, 2 Days in New York. Delpy, as director and star of both of these films, puts her idiosyncrasies out front; she's all about letting le freak flag fly. And if there are places in 2 Days in New York where Delpy lets it flap a little too freely in the breeze, there's also something joyous about the movie, even in its restless unruliness — perhaps because of its restless unruliness. The film, like the life of its lead character, played by Delpy, could use more structure, but at least it's got dippy energy to spare.

In 2 Days in New York, Delpy portrays essentially the same character she played in 2 Days in Paris: Her Marion is now a young mom, separated from the father of her child (that would be Jack, the character played by Adam Goldberg in 2 Days in New York, who appears only as a puppet figure this time around). She's now living with Mingus (Chris Rock), who has a child of his own.

The couple and their kids share what seems to be a reasonably harmonious life in a cozy-spacious Manhattan loft: Marion, a photographer, is about to launch a serious one-woman show — as a gimmick, she's also planning to auction off her soul. Mingus writes a column for the Village Voice and also hosts a political radio show. Their routine gets a shakeup when Marion's family comes over from France for a visit: Her eccentric country-bumpkin father (played, as in 2 Days in Paris, by Delpy's real-life dad Albert Delpy); her ditzy-dictatorial sister Rose (Alexia Landeau); and Rose's current kinda-boyfriend Manu (Alexandre Nahon) descend upon the household, bringing their carefree attitudes toward sex and their questionable French hygiene habits with them.

It's all a bit much for Mingus, who strives to be hospitable even when Marion's family treats the color of his skin as something of a novelty. (Manu greets him, warmly, by asking him how he feels about that hip-hop act of yore, Salt-n-Pepa.) And Marion, a breathless bird of a woman who radiates both insecurity and incandescence, seems to realize she's more Americanized than she thought: Her family's aggressive Frenchness — including her father's attempts to smuggle stinky sausages into the country and her sister's refusal to wear a bra to yoga class — cause her a great deal of consternation.

The visit puts a strain on Mingus and Marion's relationship, and Delpy and Rock play that frustration for laughs, often the uneasy kind. But their arguments and misunderstandings also give the picture its rambunctious, rambling energy. This isn't one of those movies where no one is supposed to notice that the two main characters are an interracial couple: Sometimes the cultural differences between Marion and Mingus emerge from their racial differences, which is simply the way it goes in life.

The screenplay — which was written by Delpy, Landeau and Nahon — has a jittery kind of honesty about it, which Rock and Delpy sometimes push to its limits. Marion is so daffy and self-absorbed that you sometimes wonder how Mingus can stand her. But both Rock and Delpy know how to play that aggravation as a component of deep affection: The two actors riff against, and with, each other like wayward waves crashing on the beach.

Marion and Mingus face an uncertain future as a couple, but their present, at least, is a bumpy, raucous joyride. And if they can survive this particular onslaught of aggressive familial Frenchness, maybe they can survive anything.

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