2 Days in Paris, written and directed by its star, Julie Delpy, is not exactly a film crying out for a sequel. Apt it is that Delpy, again taking up writing, directing and acting duties for 2 Days in New York, has opted to eschew the typical follow-up format. Employing that very French brand of quirkiness to potent effect, Delpy grills both sides of the pond with scathing wit, and provides an unexpected vehicle for co-star Chris Rock to flex his dramatic chops.
Since the previous film, Marion (Delpy) has split up with Jack (Adam Goldberg, who only appears by mention in this film) and now lives in New York with their young son, Lulu. Cohabiting with boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock) has proven fruitful, that is until Marion’s family, consisting of father Jeannot (Delpy’s actual father, Albert), sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and Rose’s boyfriend Manu (Alex Nahon) come to visit.
2 Days in New York is, with its whimsy and its high-camp set to a quaint score, a film so impossibly, irrefutably French that it might initially turn some viewers off. Delpy’s scope and sense of humour, however, is self-aware enough to realise this; those sticking around past act one will observe how reflexive and even-handed her treatment is. If anything, the French, by sheer number alone, come off as much battier than anyone else here – Chris Rock’s Mingus is meanwhile very much the everyman, as stunned and bemused as we are.
Some might argue that comparing the attitudes and demeanours of the aloof French with one switched-on, relatively cosmopolitan New Yorker is a lazy, easy target for a writer as talented as Julie Delpy. After all, there are countless jokes here about Marion’s father refusing to wash, while Mingus, overly tolerant and polite, is depicted as embarrassingly impotent to deal with the problem. How Delpy manages to take these facets of the French and American condition to task is by infusing it with an oddball, even quite deranged, sense of humour.
While arguably more uneven and less sure of itself than her previous film, 2 Days in New York is an emotional and comic minefield; few subjects are off-limits here, be it discussing the size of Marion’s son’s genitalia, or the applications of using an electric toothbrush as a sex toy. That it still manages to resonate its basic theme – of the inherent differences in people that define, govern, and even stabilise a relationship – is impressive, and essentially a product of Chris Rock’s startling performance.
Rock, an extremely talented comic performer, shows off another facet of his skill set here, delivering a performance that, while still funny, is primarily dramatic, framed by a few stirring scenes in which he confides his problems in a cardboard cutout of Barack Obama. We see his frustration build, and given the actor’s penchant for work that requires him to be outlandish and vocal, his restrained turn here is a diversion, one that convinces and considerably ups our expectations of him as actor rather than comedian.
Though it unfurls slightly at the end with a perilous caper that is overly silly, the central theme – not in fact that French and Americans are different, albeit equally daft creatures, but that relationships are hard work – is nevertheless hammered home impactfully. We sense the personal nature of the film, what with its references to Marion’s dead mother, and an end-film dedication to Delpy’s own. One senses the film might be operating as an analgesic for both daughter and husband, but this feeling never clouds the film – rather, it enhances the grasp it has on us.
Chris Rock delivers a performance of unexpected nuance in Julie Delpy’s personal, uproariously funny follow-up to 2 Days in Paris.
2 Days in New York is in UK cinemas now.