Sunday 13 May 2012

All in the family: "2 Days in New York"

2 Days in Paris, Julie Delpy's second film as writer-director, formed one of the spikiest, most scabrous romantic comedies of recent times - and given the bland pap Hollywood has made us sit through in that department of late, I mean that as the highest possible compliment. Wittily setting off its neurotic heroine Marion (Delpy herself) against her cranky American boyfriend (Adam Goldberg) in the French capital, Paris felt like the looney-tunes offshoot of those Before Sunrise/Before Sunset movies in which Delpy had previously featured so prominently, running with all those mad, eccentric or off-colour ideas the more refined, romantic indie entertainments simply hadn't the time for.

Well, five years down the line, things have changed in Marion's life: as she announces at the beginning of the sequel 2 Days in New York, Jack has moved on, leaving her with a young son, yet the nascent photography career she was embarking on at the time of the first film has taken off, to the point where she's receiving gallery attention. She also has a new boyfriend in Mingus (Chris Rock), a radio DJ with a daughter of his own from one of his two prior marriages. From this small yet crucial biographical detail, we can deduce that Delpy has a fondness not for the shiny happy people of romcom lore, but individuals who are lined and lived-in and a little bit bashed-around by life: it gives them character, with which they attempt to offset whatever baggage they've picked up in the process.

Still, Marion and Mingus, for all their quirks and hang-ups, begin to seem the very model of normality when the former's family and associates, memorably introduced in the first film, show up again en masse at their New York apartment: there's her magnificently self-absorbed sister Rose (Alexia Landreau, a co-writer here), who promptly displays a very French attitude to nudity; Rose's current boyfriend Manu (Alex Nahon), who - oh, by the way - just so happens to be Marion's ex, and thinks nothing of conducting a drug deal in front of his hosts' children; and - bien sûr - Marion's father Jeannot (Albert Delpy, above), who continues to resemble a berserker Kris Kringle. (Delpy missed a trick in not setting this sequel in the run-up to the Xmas period: the comic possibilities would have been infinite.)

Delpy père remains these films' ace in the hole: impossible, I would venture, to witness the catastrophe this veteran makes of a plate of cheesecake, or to overhear his Anglicised pronunciation of the phrase "very funny" and not chuckle heartily. Given the distinctive worldview both 2 Days films exude - venturing that most people spend their days either pissed-off or horny, and that it's a miracle (rather than a given) that any of us can get it together long enough to make even a temporary connection - we might conclude that a rich strain of eccentricity runs in this family. 

Yet where Delpy's feature debut Looking for Jimmy tended towards the aimlessly gabby - not for nothing did its director once make a short entitled blah, blah, blah... - her ear has grown more refined with time. Paris, like its predecessor, operates at a high, often deliberately grating pitch: its keynote is the fractious dinner table scene that leaves Mingus aghast at these Frenchies' fast and furious (yet still, apparently, affectionate) conversation, their debate punctuated only by deafening blasts of a malfunctioning entry buzzer. Yet the editorial is sharper and more selective: there's something unusual and very likable in the way Delpy positions erstwhile motormouth Rock as the voice of reason, employing him to ground the material and slow it down whenever it threatens - as it frequently does - to veer into outright farce.

Whatever else Delpy might be, she's unfailingly generous: while Marion frets and stresses, she encourages a sexy-funny turn from Landeau as the slatternly sis who spends three-quarters of a yoga class hanging out of her leotard, and writes fun bits for Dylan Baker as a squarish neighbour sucked into the madness that follows in the visitors' wake, and for Gregory Korostishevsky as a handyman with the recent cinema's most specific list of refreshment demands. At the very last, the film even offers 2012's choicest celebrity cameo: from Mr. Vincent Gallo, Esq. - "actor, director, poet, motorcycle racer", as he bills himself - as the client who buys Marion's soul at a gallery show and precipitates the finale. Maybe this is a little cosier than the first film - people get that way once they've had kids - but you show me the filmmaker capable of coaching the ego behind The Brown Bunny into revealing a wicked self-mocking streak, and I'll say, beyond any and all doubt: this, here, is a lady who can direct. 

2 Days in New York opens nationwide from Friday.

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