2 Days in New York – July Delpy
RomCom yes – ComRom no. 2 Days in Paris was a witty, stylish, quirky romantic comedy with a refreshing edge. Marion’s (Delpy) then boyfriend Adam was comfortable with having sex but distinctly discomposed at talking about it en famille, en ville, just about en-anywhere. Adam was like a WASPy duck among the French swans of the Delpy extended family headed up by her slightly Socialist, fairly eccentric, very outrageous father Jeannot (Albert Delpy, Julie’s real-life Dad).
In the earlier film Marion’s relationship with Adam worked; in the Delpy voiced over opening narrative (repeated here) you believed in the attraction of opposites between Adam’s uptight, knowing New Yorky confidence and Marion’s kooky Gallic unpredictability. There was a credible chemistry between Delpy and Adam Goldberg so something believable was threatened by the culture clash where Marion had all the culture and Adam all the clash. Because the romance worked, it provided the counterpoint against which to enjoy the comedy that broke out in each new Parisian context which Delpy confidently mined for laughs with a sting in the tail: falling in love, getting together, is the easy bit; staying together – now that’s the hard part. Very French.
2 days in New York recalls Yankees’ baseball legend Yogi Berra’s remark “ it’s déjà vu all over again.” Adam, now no doubt nursing his hypochondria and fetish for cleanliness in sexual pastures new and safely undiscussed over family dinners, has been replaced by Mingus (Chris Rock). Goateed like his musical namesake, Mingus is a radio presenter-cum-journalist whose intellectual credentials are telegraphed by his horn-rimmed specs which in a nice moment, Marion bemoans as getting in the way of oral sex. The oral sex in question rhymes with Mingus and is only one of a litany of frank sexual references that Ms Delpy relishes. (She didn’t really call him ‘Mingus’ just so that….did she?).
Reversing the first movie, Julie’s family descend upon her and Mingus in New York’s New York. Sadly for the movie and tragically for Delpy, her mother Marie Pillet who graced the first film with a delightful dead-pan comic presence, died in 2009. Much missed in life and film – Delpy touchingly dedicates 2 days in New York to ‘Marie’.
Nymphomaniac sister Rose and WOS (waste of space) boyfriend Manu have made the trip from Paris so the character ingredients are much the same: Rose and Marion’s inter-necine emotional warefare; Manu’s Rock-shocking revelations about his and Marion’s early sexual experimentation; and of course Jeannot shamelessly sharing his paternal pride in his daughter’s sexual prowess with the current beneficiary of it.
As with Paris, New York has lots of nice moments but somehow the culture clash worked better the other way round: in Paris, Marion’s off-the-wall, chaotic family life was just very French, if a little OTT. In New York, because the situations are not so well thought through and Mingus’s attitudes and sexual mores are so to speak playing-at-home; the effect is to make Jeannot et famille seem like stock French stereotypes right down to Papa being detained at Immigration with several kilos of over-ripe French cheese strapped to his body. The effect, though I’m sure not Delpy’s intention, is more parody than comic insight. The spirit of Delpy’s hero Woody Allen is never far away from her slightly manic, relentless pursuit of laughs. What emerged wryly and naturally from character and context in the first film looks too often contrived and forced in New York. In Paris Delpy played slightly kooky Marion: in New York unfortunately it’s more Delpy playing Delpy playing Marion. What we might call the Curse of Keaton – Diane not Buster. After Annie Hall, Keaton played Keaton playing Annie for quite some time.
The truth I guess is that kookiness has a short shelf life: it needs innocence and our affectionate indulgence of youth to find it charming rather than intensely irritating. The only old ‘kook’ I can think of was the later Katherine Hepburn but by that stage the term was no longer rich enough to do justice to the acerbic sense of fun we relished.
I do so hope Delpy avoids the Keaton curse she flirts with in 2 Days in New York: fine writer and assured director though she is, it’s a big ask to see your own performance with a keen enough critical eye to curb indulgent excesses.
With these inherent weaknesses of conception it is hard to tell whether Chris Rock is left stranded by the writing or simply miscast. This is disappointing: he can time a line to perfection but unfortunately Delpy hasn’t written to his comic strengths: quick-fire, ironic one-liners building one upon the other. Comedy-wise the writing here slows him down and he has to spend far too long, far too often in New York milking what comedy he can from reaction shots of actual and mock surprise, outraged exasperation etc. I suspect Rock is one of those comics who can adapt to the subtle difference in acting a comedy role. Unfortunately Delpy didn’t write him one. So the jury’s out.
The casting of Rock and the much broader, more slapstick approach Delpy takes to New York reverses the balance of the movie in the way I referred to at the beginning. I never quite buy in to the romance with Mingus and therefore the humour has nothing out of which to develop. So comedy drives romance. And that just doesn’t work: if the romance works we enjoy that and the comedy is a really nice bonus. If the comedy drives, we just want more laughter and feel the romance is just tedious distraction. Hence ComRom.
The other disappointment is that Director Delpy make so little use of the most evocative and resonant cinematic city on earth. Much of her film is shot inside and apart from an excellent little scene in an Art gallery she extracts little humour from the comically target rich environment of New York. Truth be told, while I stand by my admiration for the instincts of French Directors, including exiled ones like Julie D, in films about love and romance; they do not display the same instinct for comedy. I know of very few genuinely funny French films; Jacques Tati leaving me colder than cuddly Chaplin. In fact I have not the slightest idea what makes the French laugh (apart from any form of discomfiture for the English) though a recent article I read suggests that Delpy’s instinct for the broadly lavatorial and sexual in New York seems to be roughly in the boules parc.
After the first film I declared my love for Ms Delpy; and I remain true to my original instincts. However as a talented actress she needs the discipline of a strong director; as a sharp, insightful writer she needs to recover the strength of characterisation she displayed in the earlier film; and as a confident Director she needs to recover the fine balance between character, context and casting she achieved before.
That said Julie: even if though fun, New York isn’t as good as I’d hoped: as another unlikely romantic once famously said – “we’ll always have Paris.”
Filed under: Julie Delpy