2 Days in New York moves at such a breakneck pace that it’s easy to forgive its semblance to dozens of other comedies. The American characters are bewildered, the French characters are outrageous, and at the center are a couple who cannot seem to have a moment alone. Director and co-author Julie Delpy has everyone speak with a manic combination of French and English; it’s a wonder that we can follow dinner conversation since the dialogue overlaps the subtitles. By plunging the audience into a world of European eccentrics, the heartfelt humor is nearly exasperating.
It’s been five years since Marion (Delpy) spent 2 Days in Paris with Jack (Adam Goldberg), and a lot has happened since then. Her mother passed away, and Marion had a child with Jack, only to split up later. Now she lives with Mingus (Chris Rock), a writer for the Village Voice who’s not as high-strung as Marion’s ex. Marion’s father (Albert Delpy) comes to visit along with her sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and Manu (Alexandre Nahon). Manu is dating Rose and used to date Marion; this revelation is the first of many that force Mingus to lose his cool. He tries to hold it together until Marion’s gallery opening, where she literally plans to sell her soul at an open auction.
Fish-out-of-water comedy is nothing new, and Delpy is acutely aware of this. She knows that audiences will groan disapprovingly if they have a moment to breathe and assess the situation. Her strategy, then, is to force the culture-clash from all angles. When Mingus and his sister sit down with Marion’s family, Manu makes vaguely racist remarks while Rose condescendingly giggles at Mingus’ name. It only gets worse once the crew leaves their apartment. Marion’s father, a gleeful anarchist who is perhaps senile, is the source of broad physical comedy and the inevitable non-sexual nudity gag. Marion’s family moves through the city without tact or self-awareness, and their restlessness ensures that a laugh is never too far away.
The French actors, all reprising their roles from 2 Days in Paris, and have no problem transplanting their uneasy chemistry to America. Albert Delpy, Julie’s real-life father, is the funniest since his age contributes more to his comedy than his homeland. Manu and Rose are a strange pair, bound by a combination of condescension and curiosity, so their devil may care attitude infuriates Mingus more than anything else.
Chris Rock an interesting, crucial choice for the straight man. He dials back his on-stage persona, as he did with the Death at a Funeral remake, and his intelligent eyes are guide to where our sympathy should lie. His chemistry with Delpy works since Marion is crazier than a Woody Allen caricature, and he grounds her in reality. The only missteps are the scenes where Mingus has imaginary conversations with a cut-out of Barack Obama; Rock is a gifted actor, but whimsy is not in his wheelhouse.
Let’s go back to the sub-plot of Marion selling her soul. It’s introduced as a quirky detail, and Delpy develops that storyline in an ingenious way. Of course she sells her soul to Anonymous. In the movie’s most memorable scene, Delpy has an odd conversation with the buyer. Their identity is a surprise of sorts until we think about it more and realize that, yes, of course this person would be interested in procuring a soul. 2 Days in New York rehashes material that any romantic comedy fan will recognize. On the margins, however, are delightfully bizarre moments of comic invention. For her next film, maybe Delpy should jettison the culture clash and maintain the madcap surrealism.