September 14, 2012

Why the French Do it Better

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For those who have not had the pleasure of watching Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in Paris, you can still jump into 2 Days in New York and appreciate the raucously funny French American film. Delpy returns as writer (as well as director and lead actress) with the same formula that made 2 Days in Paris a hit, while maintaining an air of freshness. The writing walks that fine line between absurdist satire and complete farce and pulls it off splendidly. The film manages to take typical American preconceptions of the French such as their (in)famous body odor and fierce love of life and does not refute them, but rather makes them quite endearing.

Since the last 2 Days installment, Marion (Delpy) has lost a boyfriend and a mother and gained a son, Lulu (only the French could pull off this name) and new boyfriend, Mingus (Chris Rock). And just as in the first movie, her family makes quite an appearance, this time in New York City. After the death of his wife, Marion’s father, Jeannot (played by Delpy’s real father, Albert Delpy), has felt lonely and longs to see his eldest child. He comes to visit with his daughter Rose (Alexia Landeau) in tow. The family dynamic among the three is at once exaggerated with the sibling rivalry and charmingly honest. Marion and Rose constantly bicker and insult each other causing a scene at the restaurant while Mingus is trying to speak with a former colleague who now works for Obama’s administration. Meanwhile, Jeannot simply tries to yell at them like any powerless father will do, producing more noise rather than quelling it. It is all quite over-the-top but such as the case with French satire.

The unexpected visitor, Manu (Alexandre Nahon), however, really throws the film’s characters for a loop. His raunchy sense of humour and lack of awareness for what is socially appropriate makes the audience cringe but at the same time double over in hearty laughter. His racist and stereotypical remarks targeted towards Mingus and his sister are completely wrong but one cannot help but chuckle. Whether it be because he calls Elizabeth (Malinda Williams) more sexy than Beyonce or laments the fact that Mingus is the only black man who does not smoke weed in New York, Manu never fails to show his small-mindedness. His character presents quite a jarring juxtaposition to the notion that most have that Europeans are cosmopolitan and sophisticated while being quite vulgar and rough himself.

Adding to the French circus is Marion herself. While trying to rein in her family’s insanity, Marion fails to rein in hers. The stresses of trying to ameliorate the tensions that Manu causes with neighbors and Mingus and then her own stresses as a mother and struggling artist, leaves Marion in a tizzy. And as any controversial artist invariably does, Marion is also concerned with how her latest statement will be received as she sells her soul to the highest bidder. Her character just adds another comical layer to the French artist lifestyle and Delpy pulls of the the Woody Allenesque neurosis with flair and with a deft hand at her craft.

The most surprising acting job came from none other than Chris Rock. Usually the comic is known for his loud and crude delivery, but in this case, he shies away for it for a more subdued character. Mingus is a radio jockey, but instead of cracking jokes, he talks politics and current events. Moreover, Mingus seems to keep Marion rooted accepting her eccentricities and remaining the calm and collected partner in the relationship. For Rock, acting against type serves him just as well and allows his usual audience to see this new side away from the caricatures he is adept at playing.

Overall, 2 Days in New York showcases wonderful homegrown and foreign talent into a foray not usually tapped by most independent films. Sure there are the usual neuroses and slapstick found in most indie comedies, but this hybrid foreign aspect makes things interesting. The film does not purport to be a highbrow French film nor does it try to be some debased American indie comedy. It is purely another work of comedic genius on the part of Julie Delpy to demonstrate her expertise in what it means to be French, what it is to be an artist, and what it is to write, direct, and act in a truly great film. But before you sit down and enjoy this one, make sure to watch 2 Days in Paris; it is sure to make you Julie Delpy’s next biggest fan.

Original Author: Natalia Fallas