Rather quietly Julie Delpy has made a comfortable transition into directing over the last decade, and considering the low standards of actors-turned-directors, she’s proven to be quite good at it. Her latest film is a sequel to 2 Days In Paris, though there’s really nothing you need to know from the last movie that isn’t summed up in the children’s puppet show intro (I know, but trust me it’s not nearly as irritating as it sounds). By moving the location to New York she has, much like Nichole Holofcener or Jennifer Westfeldt, assumed the currently globe-trotting Woody Allen’s mantle by way of Nora Efron. This is a Manhattanite romantic comedy with delicate observations and harsh emotions woven in amongst the laughs. It’s ultimately a fluffy and cute affair that isn’t exactly overflowing with deep meaning, but as a pleasant summer diversion with plenty of laughs, the movie is a real treat. Big screen empty calories so charming that you can’t help but walk out of the theater with a warn smile on your face regardless of how dark and cynical your heart might be.
Delpy again plays the deeply neurotic French transplant Marion who’s now separated from Adam Goldberg’s super-powered neurotic Jack in favor of Chris Rock’s Mingus. They each bring a child to the single parent coupling like a low key Brady Bunch and live life as happy as two actual humans filled with normal issues and conflicts can. As with any comedy centering on an uptight main character, Marion has a parade of problems for the film to be built around. She’s currently putting on a major art show of photographs of her past lovers, selling her soul as some sort of existential art stunt, writing for the Village Voice, coming to terms with a secret pregnancy, and her family is coming to visit. Mingus has his own issues dealing with juggling 3 radio shows and a writing gig as well as a dream of interviewing Barack Obama that he’s constantly trying to fulfill. All these problems become secondary once Marion’s non-English speaking horndog father (Delpy’s actual father Albert), pothead philosopher brother-in-law (Alexandre Nahon), and nymphomaniac sister (Alexia Landeau) come to share their cramped New York apartment. Misunderstandings, fights, public nudity, and various other comedic shenanigans ensue.
Much like its forebearer, this New York sequel isn’t trying to do much beyond please and entertain. That Delpy and her cast can pull that off with ease, style, and charm is more than enough. Some of the culture shock French-folks-in-America gags are a little too clichéd (the father is actually stopped at the airport for sneaking in cheese and the whole family ravenously digs into croissants like a flock of starved velociraptors one morning in the two most extreme examples), but fortunately Delpy doesn’t force those gags long after the first act. As an actress she again pushes aside the romantic French fantasy image she had in the 90s in favor of a more manic and confused woman perpetually flustered. She is of course too beautiful to feel like a mess of a human being amd thankfully she is supposed to be a success beyond the emotional troubles. Chris Rock is probably the movie’s MVP, actually playing a character rather than the usual PG version of his stand up persona used in crap Hollywood comedies and he gives probably his best performance since Dogma. Rock is funny in an awkward, perpetually pleasing, Albert Brooks kind of way. He tosses in a few improvised moments that slip into the Chris Rock we all love and even when they stretch beyond his movie character the lines are the funniest in the film so it’s hard to care. Dylan Baker pops up for a hysterical little cameo as a pervy doctor and even better is a certain New York filmmaker/actor/nutcase that shows up briefly to play a self-mocking version of himself so perfectly that I can’t in good conscience ruin it here. The French threesome playing Delpy’s family all nail the appropriate sweet/obnoxious mix, but ultimately this is the Chris Rock/Julie Delpy show and as inappropriate as that combination sounds, it’s actually oddly perfect.
The mix of broad farce and pained emotion can sometimes feel like a tonal slingshot, but nothing compared to 2 Days in Paris and it’s actually an improvement on the predecessor. Delpy’s also maturing into a decent visual storyteller. For the most part the look favors a handheld improv style that suits the material, but every now and then Delpy tosses in a playful montage (like a New York sightseeing tour done in stills) that slots in well. The humor ultimately never rises above sitcom levels, but at least it’s firmly in the creative post-2000 sitcom camp, and when the inevitable serious drama arrives at the end, it feels earned for the believable characters with genuine problems. The film is both oddly personal and playfully exaggerated for Delpy and if she can keep coming up with variations on this world every couple years it would actually be a rom-com franchise worth keeping around. There aren’t many of those, particularly made for the semi-indie/semi-Euro film circuit, so I guess that makes her somewhat of a pioneer. Not many women can lay claim to launching two memorable romantic movie franchises like Delpy has done with this series and the Before Sunrise series. Hopefully one day a larger audience than the usual film geeks, hipsters, and the French will notice.