Published on September 12th, 2012 | by Alicia Coombes0
Review of 2 Days in New York
It speaks volumes to the farcical nature of the characters in 2 Days in New York that Chris Rock is the most dignified of the bunch. Showcasing his growth as an actor, his restrained straightman routine only cracks a few times in the film, most notably when he’s alone talking with his life-size cutout of Obama, or when he’s playing his on-air radio personality version of himself.
Julie Delpy’s sequel to 2 Days in Paris explores Franco-American culture clash and family ties while celebrating flawed-but-beautiful cities and people. Most of the characters given screen time in the first film return for this one; unfortunately, they are shorthand versions of their previous incarnations, making their behavior seem malicious or downright evil without context.
Marion (Delpy) is a photographer with a quiet bumbling nature (interrupted by angry episodes and goofball storytelling). Her relationship with Mingus (Rock) is shaken up by the arrival of her father, Jeannot (real-life father Albert Delpy), and sister Rose, (co-writer Alexia Landeau). Rose allows tagalong Manu (an ex-boyfriend of Marion’s played by Alexandre Nahon) to join them on the trip, throwing off carefully constructed sleeping arrangements – Mingus and Marion live in a tiny Manhattan apartment with their two children, each from previous relationships. The couple allows everyone to stay in the apartment instead of securing hotel rooms despite Manu’s inappropriate remarks and Rose’s insistence on wandering around the house half-dressed while giggling over the fact that Mingus’ name rhymes with a sex act. Mingus doesn’t throw the inevitable fit until an opportunity for him to meet the president is ruined by Manu’s earnestly mistaken racist remarks while Marion and Rose have a loud hair-pulling and screaming fight. By this point, the trip is half over and the worst damage is done.
The ostensible reason for the visit – Marion’s photography exhibit – feels a bit contrived and isn’t well executed (a critique echoed onscreen, triggering another one of Marion’s out-of-character tantrums). The exhibit involves a ten-year retrospective of Marion’s relationships in the form of self-portraits in bed, and culminates in an auctioning off of her soul. Unfortunately, no importance is given to this event until it is bought by Vincent Gallo (played by himself) for half the amount she was expecting. Her confrontation with him plays out like a failed improv exercise.
Sprinkled into the plot are moments of genuine sweetness: Albert and Mingus trying to bond at a neighborhood Thai massage place; Albert breaking through an assumed language barrier with the Vietnamese therapists there (Albert was born in French-colonized Saigon); Marion cuddling with her son in bed, visually referencing the art on display in the previous scene. Marion reflects a lot on the passing of her mother (her real-life mother, who was in the first movie, also passed away last year), but her father and sister seem less affected. Unfortunately, a lot of that is buried or forgotten under the tried-and-true farcical elements of language barriers, culture shock and conversations involving obviously mistranslated statements. The end is wrapped up suddenly with not one, but several, unsatisfying dei ex machina.
All this aside, I liked this film in spite of itself, if only because of Chris Rock’s generally controlled performance and the opportunity to revisit the fun characters from Paris. I’m glad I saw 2 Days in Paris first — it did all of the heavy hitting as far as character development — and I found myself liking these people despite their flaws. The cinematography and score is reminiscent of a Woody Allen film, and the structure of imperfect people in a lovely setting worked well. I just wish the film’s sincerity wasn’t lost amidst jokes we’ve heard before.