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2 Days in New York

2 Days in New York

They could be in two completely different films

dir: Julie Delpy

Yeah, there really aren’t enough flicks set in New York, you know. Seconds, sometimes minutes go by in cinemas across the world where people are occasionally looking at footage of cities other than New York. It’s a shocking statistic.

2 Days in New York tries to correct this terrible shortage, this famine of the soul, by gifting us with the antics of some not-very-likeable people in New York going to Central Park and the Statue of Liberty and every other cliché you can think of.

Julie Delpy, who also directs, edits, wrote the screenplay, the music, made the sandwiches and probably stood outside cinemas urging people to come inside and watch her movie, decided a sequel to her earlier flick 2 Days in Paris was mandatory, instead of optional. She stars as Marion, a French woman with a kid living in New York with her new partner Mingus (Chris Rock) and his kid.

Her intention, both in life and in this film seems to be to reinforce clichés and stereotypes about French people that even Americans who reflexively hate them without knowing any French people, never knew about. It’s one thing to do a take on the old “my in-laws are visiting and I just wish they would leave us alone and die” by adding “my in-laws are visiting and they’re awful French people” when you’re an American pandering to an American audience. I’m not exactly sure who Delpy is pandering to, since she comes off the worst perhaps out of all the awful people she depicts in this.

I’ve front-loaded this review by making it sound like it’s awful: it’s not totally awful. Chris Rock is in it, and he’s entertaining enough, though I didn’t really need to see him talking to a cardboard cut-out of Obama in a chummy way. If I wanted to see that I’d sit through and endure the presidential debates, which definitely constitute cruel and unusual punishment on the viewer. I like Julie Delpy, and have for a long time, and there are a few moments in this that I didn’t dislike her character. But her character is played fairly annoyingly, and it seems to be deliberate on her part, so I’m not sure what she’s trying to say about anything.

Her actual father, Albert Delpy, plays her father here, though the woman playing her sister is not her sister, which is a relief. The contention from Rock’s character Mingus is that Marion, his partner, has been, until now, a completely lovely person who’s just currently being driven crazy by the presence of her family, her former boyfriend Manu (Alexandre Nahon), and the stress of her upcoming exhibition. Also, she’s still grieving for her recently departed mother.

And, she’s French, I guess. None of this really explains why she, or any of her family, act in such a farcical manner, unless of course you realise that what she’s made here is a French farce mostly in English perhaps for French consumption (I can’t really assert that with any credibility). Otherwise this flick makes little to no sense to me. It is a cheaper take on the Meet the Fockers-Little Fockers type stuff, with a mishmash of other stuff perhaps cribbed from whatever Delpy was watching on the telly while writing her script.

I mention this because there’s a strange and pointless subplot regarding a ‘performance’ aspect to her gallery exhibition, which involves the auctioning off of her soul to the highest bidder. Now, it comes up and is resolved in a strange enough fashion, involving as it does Vincent Gallo playing Vincent Gallo wearing a Tyrolean hat like he’s about to start yodelling at the top of an Austrian mountain, but I couldn’t help thinking, “well, is she going to ride her bike to Milhouse’s grandmother’s to beg for her soul back?”, because I’m pretty sure she must have been watching a Simpsons rerun when she came up with this.

Let’s see what other strange elements she adds to the mix: her sister’s sex obsessed boyfriend is clueless and racist, the father is casually racist too, and so is the sister. They are polite enough to Mingus, who spends most of the flick exhibiting a kind of muted teeth-grinding rage, but they essentially think virtually every black person looks, you guessed it, the same. This is cutting edge stuff, surely, the height of contemporary Gallic satire.

Oh, there’s humour to be had, even if it just comes from being appalled at their behaviour, or appalled that they thought it would be funny, so it’s not a long, dry, drought of laughs. That being said, it's not exactly that enjoyable, and, I have to say, the problem is mostly Delpy's character.

Even more so than her father, or competitive sister, or her idiot ex-boyfriend, the Delpy character is exquisitely awful. I don't mean she's badly acted, not at all, but she's depicted as an annoying histrionic mess, and the eventual explanations for her actions and behaviour are even more insulting. Chris Rock's character is, perversely, meant to be the one sane person throughout all this, but they never seem like a real couple, or two people who actually love each other enough to put up with the sheer awfulness of one member of the couple.

There's an overall amateurish feel to the whole thing, which isn't bad in and of itself. That kind of approach can give a flick a certain energy, a certain momentum that more scripted and more seriously acted endeavours lack. On the other hand, sometimes flicks can overreach in trying to 'match' reality by reminding us of the inherent tedium of a lot of the conflicts we have with family and friends when it's not filtered skilfully through the lens of art.

Speaking of art, well, the clichés just keep on rolling, since Marion is an artist, after all. Her exhibition is amusing enough in how it transpires, with the farcical elements coming to the fore, but her reaction towards an art critic transcends anything I would expect except out of an episode of The Sopranos. The culmination of her art's mediocrity is only transcended by the awkwardness of the scene following immediately after with Vincent Gallo, who essentially bellows at the camera about how he's an actor, director, stock car racer, musician and sex god, which doesn't actually seem like he's taking the piss out of himself, more like he's staking his claim. His presence in the flick is welcome, though thankfully he doesn't force anyone to blow him (unlike in the notorious Brown Bunny), though he's even more comically repugnant here.

If the flick has an overall point it's that French people suck. As a film made by a French director, it seems like an oddly self-deprecating turn. If it has a further point, it's that family sucks, and causes us to regress somewhat, much to the horror of our partners. Yeah, that's probably true for many of us too. The problem is this crepe of a flick doesn't make any of these points well, wittily or artfully, so really it's about as pleasant as a fleeting headache, who's sole virtue could be said to be the fact that it doesn't last very long.


6 times sure she was lovely in Before Sunrise and Sunset, but what has she done for us lately out of 10

" They're doing something freaky with my toothbrush!" - if only it could have been something funny as well - 2 Days in New York