As Woody Allen continues gallivanting around Europe, leaving Manhattan vulnerable to incursion by Visigoths and Vandals, the inevitable has occurred. In fact, it is likely that around the same time the quirky NYC native’s ode to the City of Light, Midnight in Paris was opening in theaters, a quirky Parisian-born filmmaker was quietly invading Allen’s beloved Big Apple, churning out precisely the type of oft-lamented “earlier, funny” movie that his most ardent fans have been pining for (turnabout is fair play?). So who is this usurper, boldly laying claim to the Sacred Throne of Neurotica? Julie Delpy, perhaps best known to American audiences for her work in Richard Linklater’s popular diptych Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, first tasted the whine in 2007 by writing, directing and co-starring in the Allen-esque rom-com 2 Days in Paris. Now, she’s made a sequel called 2 Days in New York…and it’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen this year.
Delpy once again casts herself as Marion, a French ex-pat living in Manhattan. In the 2007 film, we joined her and her neurotic American boyfriend (Adam Goldberg) on a trip to Paris, where they ultimately found themselves reassessing their tempestuous relationship. Five years have passed; and in a cleverly staged preamble, we quickly discern that while they ended up having a child together, they amicably decided it would be best for their mutual sanity if they went their separate ways. Marion has a new man in her life, a long-time pal turned lover named Mingus (Chris Rock) who has a tween daughter from a previous relationship. The four all live together in a cozy Manhattan loft. Marion and Mingus are the quintessential NY urban hipster movie couple; she’s a photo-journalist/conceptual artist; and he’s a radio talk show host who also writes for the Voice.
The already high-strung Marion is on edge for several reasons. She has an important gallery show coming up, for which she is literally selling her soul for. No, seriously (I won’t spoil that for you). Then there’s her family, who have just flown in from France for a visit and to get acquainted with her new Significant Other. The relatively buttoned-down Mingus is in for a bit of culture shock. Right off the bat, he finds that Marion’s father (real-life dad Alpert Delpy, reprising his role from the previous film) reeks rather heavily of imported sausages and cheeses (which he unsuccessfully attempted to smuggle through airport security). Marion’s exhibitionist sister (Alexia Landeau) likes to parade around the apartment in various stages of undress, and her perpetually baked boyfriend Manu (Alex Nahon) is nothing if not eccentric (these people are like The Out of Towners in reverse). And yes…much Franco-American culture-clash comic mayhem does ensue.
This all may look quite silly on paper; and granted, much of it is pure silliness. Compared to the previous film, there is some unevenness in the script; this could be attributable to the addition of co-writers Landeau and Nahon this time out. But still, for the most part, it works nicely, thanks to the charming Delpy’s ability to elicit consistent belly laughs, despite her tendency to vacillate from high-brow to low-brow (first rule of comedy: whatever works). It’s interesting to see Rock essentially play the straight man (although he still fires off some of the film’s funniest lines). While I think he is brilliant as a stand-up performer, I’ve found much of his previous film work off-putting (I suspect it was not so much a reflection on his abilities as it was his choice of projects). He’s very good here, projecting a more appealing screen presence by just reining it in a bit. Vincent Gallo has a hilarious cameo (playing himself…and parodying himself) that doubles as a satirical jab at art poseurs. OK, so it isn’t Annie Hall, but this is about as close as you’ll get in 2012.