A gift from the French government in 1886, the Statue of Liberty and her promise to welcome “The wretched refuse of your teeming shore” was the first recognisable sign of the America that new immigrants saw when arriving in New York. Arriving with 30 kinds of sausage and cheese at customs and upsetting the delicate balance of New Yorker’ social mores, a new wave of smelly and unwashed immigrants has arrived from Europe in the form of the Dupres family and the eternal tagalong, Manu. Cultures will clash, crepes, croissants and all manner of French culinary delights will fly.
This is the premise of July Delpy’s latest film “2 Days in New York” which, if you didn’t get it from the title, is the sequel to her 2007 indie hit “2 Days in Paris.” In the first film, Delpy presented her take on the American in Paris genre of culture clash movies. The result was a cute, funny and observational film about relationships. In bringing the cast to the United States for the sequel, Delpy ventures into unfamiliar territory.
Set several years after the original, Marion Dupres (Delpy) has left her boyfriend Jack of the first film, although they now have a child. She is now in a relationship with all around nice-guy Mingus (a subdued Chris Rock), who also has a child. After Dupres’ mother passes away in Paris, her father and sister decide to come to New York to spend some time with Marion, bringing Manu, Marion’s crazy ex from the previous film, along for the ride.
Though “New York” reunites much of the talent from “Paris,” it is ultimately left lacking in its predecessor’s long shadow. “Paris” was told through long, languid conversations that frequently veered off topic, allowing Jack and Marion to howl and deconstruct their myopic views on life and relationships. “Paris” felt like Delpy’s personal appendix to “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.”
By contrast, “New York” feels like a commedia dell’arte. Its story is shot through a series of lazzi — physical gags — on which the rather loose plot is hung. This isn’t to say these bits aren’t funny. It’s just that we’ve come to expect more from from the doyenne of cross-cultural romance comedy. “Paris” was a natural fly-on-the-wall account of a relationship’s disintegration and “New York” is a gag-based sitcom. The East Village setting and TV-like set don’t help comparisons with tacky shows like “Friends.”
On its own merits, the film is very funny. The performers craft decent jokes from objects like an electric toothbrush and a free-standing poster of President Obama. It is also refreshing to see a mixed-race couple on screen that feels like neither the butt of a joke, nor the object of some Hollywood affirmative action policy. Vincent Gallo shows up — he plays, well, Vincent Gallo. Chris Rock shows he is capable realistic character portrayal when he dials down his funny-man routine.
There was enough wit and intelligence to the first film to make it’s naive carelessness seem deliberate and artful. The improvised characterisation and rough camera work gave “Paris” a sprezzatura that “New York” fails to capture. Here, the characterisation is forced, as are the gags and the camera work and story feels rough by error, rather than design. One only hopes that when Delpy comes round to making her next “2 Days” film, she can find her balance again.