Trading Woody to Team Europe might not turn out to be such a bad deal for us if Team New York gets to keep Julie Delpy. The French actress’s follow-up to 2007’s 2 Days in Paris* — turns out to be an assured, sensitive, and occasionally very funny relationship comedy that, much like Allen at his best, takes sharply drawn and recognizable characters and stretches them until something fascinating emerges.
Delpy plays Marion, a French artist living in New York with her live-in boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock); they each have kids from previous relationships, and the film opens with a puppet show explaining the circumstances whereby this very modern and very New York couple came to live together. Meanwhile, at JFK, Marion’s family — her father Jeannot (played by Albert Delpy, the director-star’s real father), her sister Rose (Alexia Landeau), and Rose’s boyfriend and Marion’s ex Manu (Alex Nahon) — is detained at customs, where they have to pull larger and larger pieces of sausage out of their clothes, an arsenal of cultural weaponry that presages the clash of sensibilities that’s about to occur when they visit Marion and meet Mingus for the first time.
All that seems to presage something broader and more boisterous than what we actually get, but no matter. (Comically, large sausages are more Ben Stiller than Woody Allen, if you think about it.) Once the family arrives at chez Marion et Mingus, 2 Days in New York becomes more an observational farce than an outright one. Ping-ponging arguments over dinner (often between Rose and Marion, who really have it in for each other) take the place of doors opening and closing, and mistaken meaning (courtesy of Jeannot, who doesn’t speak any English, and Manu, who is a terrible translator) replaces mistaken identity. As such, this film is a subtler beast, though no less funnier for being so. Plus, there are some genuinely broad strokes, often courtesy of the skeezy Manu, who is convinced that New York is the crazy city he’s seen in the movies and that the buttoned-down Mingus, by virtue of his race, its gatekeeper.
Indeed, there are two, maybe even three, different movies going on in 2 Days in New York, and the ease with which she drifts among them is a testament to Delpy’s growing dexterity as a writer and director. On one level, the film is a touchy-feely one about the love affair between Marion and her quirky but affectionate father, and about how this affects her relationship with Mingus. On another level, though, the film is a veiled odd couple comedy about Manu and Mingus. Even though they have relatively little actual interaction, they’re the film’s two extreme poles: Manu the ridiculous and annoying foreigner in love with his own idea of New York, and Mingus the self-serious, bourgeois intellectual who suddenly finds himself vaguely humiliated by this presumptuous and not particularly smart Frenchman.
These two are also the source of the film’s most compelling comedy: In the cringe-inducing Manu, Delpy has found a perfect surrogate not only for many of New Yorkers’ most outrageous fears about tourists, but also for many foreigners’ fears of how they’ll come off when they visit. And for all his wise-assery, Rock has always been at his best when playing a straight man — not the kind who’s oblivious to his surroundings, but the smart, savvy kind who sees that things are going out of control and is often powerless to stop them. Here he lends Mingus just the right level of slow-boiling outrage. Delpy may be starting to channel Woody Allen’s directorial skills, but Rock has fully appropriated the Woodman’s barbed comic anger.
* This review originally stated that 2 Days in New York was Delpy's second film as director, which it is not.