Julie Delpy has earned the admiration and respect of notable directors Jean-Luc Godard, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Richard Linklater, whose Before Sunrise and Before Sunset have likely brought her most of her American fans. But Delpy’s also earned a lot of slashes in her career, adding writing, directing and singing to her credits. In her fourth directorial effort, 2 Days in New York, Delpy, who also stars and co-wrote the screenplay, provides a different and funny take on relationships, family and even the nature of the soul.
A continuation of 2007’s 2 Days in Paris, 2 Days in New York, finds Marion (Delpy) navigating a remarkably stressful few days. Her risky new photography exhibition is about to open and her family – that is her father Jeannot (Albert Delpy, the star’s actual father), her sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and Rose’s boyfriend and Marion’s ex Manu (Alex Nahon, a co-writer), are coming to visit her and her new boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock). Mingus isn’t exactly overjoyed at the prospect of his new “in-laws” coming in, especially since he doesn’t know much French and has his own career stresses to deal with. The visit starts off okay, though the language barrier does present a problem, as Manu doesn’t have the grasp of English he thinks he does, nor much self-control. The cultural barriers are actually the biggest issue for Mingus, as a number of the things that might seem common place for Marion’s family in France just seem a bridge too far for his tastes. Marion tries her best to manage, while also doing what she can to keep her photography show, which may end her career if it doesn’t go well, from becoming a disaster. Mingus and Marion also have to deal with the stresses of trying to bring together a blended family, and decide if they’re ready to take a step forward as a couple.
Delpy channels a middle-period Woody Allen in more ways than just the New York setting. Delpy has a keen understanding for the way family dynamics can look and feel for outsiders, as well as the way long held grudges can come out in stressful situations. She also shows a real gift for philosophical introspection, especially during a scene with a cameo from a well-known actor and director. As a performer, she shows why so many great directors have wanted to work with her so often. She can make things look very easy, even as her life seems to be coming apart. While the character changes significantly when she’s around her family, that’s also something that should seem pretty natural and recognizable to most of the audience. Rock, whose previous film work has often been criticized, channels something more serious with the role of Mingus. He’s much more serious and down to earth than some of his previous roles, perhaps because Rock actually seems like he could have turned out like Mingus if his life had taken different turns. Marion and Mngus, therefore, come off like a real couple, with a real history. And, by taking that more serious turn, Rock’s best lines actually end up delivering more laughs than in a standard comedy of the type he’s starred in the past. And the elder Delpy is a lot of fun, showing both a sweet and caring side and providing reason to find the character exasperating.
Where Delpy may overdo it, however, are the antics of her sister and Manu. It’s one thing to play into stereotype, but Manu essentially becomes the ugly Frenchman upon arrival. While it might be believable that a person might commit a few faux pas out of cultural ignorance in a new country, the number and severity of Manu’s transform the character into a plot device, albeit an occasionally funny one. The character is also disposed with in far too easy and convenient a fashion. Rose, first as Manu’s partner in crime, but also on her own, also becomes a bit much to be believable, particularly in the way she chooses the most inappropriate moments to rehash old grudges with her sister.
But, on the whole, Delpy succeeds in crafting a movie that can alternately be wildly funny and deeply poignant. While some of her characters end up going a little too far over the top, by keeping the main characters and performances grounded in trying to make things work out, Delpy manages to tell a few fundamental truths about relationships in between the crazy Gallic antics.