Clashing cultures and domestic dysfunction are both classic staples of the comedy genre, and when the two come together they can form a perfect storm of uncomfortable screwball laughs. Conflicting social customs, relationship squabbles, and rampant misunderstandings all duke it out in an awkward ballet of squeamish distress, letting audiences revel in the on-screen characters' embarrassing misfortune. While we probably wouldn't want to be in their shoes, it sure can be fun to watch. From actress/director Julie Delpy (perhaps best known for her parts in Richard Linklater's wonderful 'Before Sunrise' and 'Before Sunset' films), '2 Days in New York' offers one such appropriately zany and uneasy cultural battle, pitting an unsuspecting American against his girlfriend's outlandish French family. Fast-paced, frantic, and smart, the flick provides a refreshing spin on romcom conventions. While the story does slightly meander and fizzle out toward the end, the neurotic ride is certainly worthwhile.
A loose sequel to '2 Days in Paris' (which I have not seen), the film focuses on the dating couple of Marion (Julie Delpy) and Mingus (Chris Rock). When Marion's eccentric French family comes to visit, the duo's bond is put to the test, sending a shockwave of comical insanity throughout their lives. While the pair tries to keep their unruly guests in check, they also struggle to deal with their children and careers. Thrust into a 48 hour whirlwind of absurdity, they'll have to brave the onslaught or risk losing their relationship.
Free-flowing and episodic, the story offers an amusing departure from the standard romantic comedy formula. Delpy and co-writer Alexia Landeau (who also plays Marion's nymphomaniac sister) inject the proceedings with a playful sense of awkward humor that manages to be intelligent and silly. Mixing shades of Woody Allen and classic screwball comedies, the writers weave an escalating tale of familial lunacy that balances witty dialogue, uncomfortable interactions, slightly exaggerated characters, and even a few goofy physical bits. After setting up a cute framing device (Marion tells the story through a puppet show to her children), the narrative hits the ground running and rarely stops, flying by at a speedy and sometimes frenzied rhythm. Multiple conversations frequently occur at the same time, and the filmmakers play up the language barrier, often switching between French and English, keeping both the audience and actors on their toes. This leads to numerous lost in translation misunderstandings and social faux pas that build and build upon one another, gradually inflating the increasingly outlandish comedy of errors.
Reinforcing the script's hectic tone, Delpy infuses the movie with a fast-paced cinematic style that perfectly bolsters the story's escalating comedy. Quick pans, handheld camera work, and even jump cutting are employed in several sequences, elaborating on the frantic, unpredictable atmosphere. Scenes are packed with busy activity and Delpy uses deliberate staging and blocking, juggling all the film's moving parts while simultaneously displaying a great sense of comedic timing. The director also uses voice-overs set to montages of quick cutting stills to fill in the backstories of certain characters, adding another eccentric layer to the storytelling. Thankfully, despite these stylistic flourishes, the visual and editing techniques are never overbearing, and instead the dialogue and performances really take center stage.
Though it might seem like a fairly odd pairing on paper, together Delpy and Rock actually make a surprisingly natural on-screen couple, and the two performers share solid chemistry. Marion is an adorably neurotic mess for much of the film, and Delpy balances all of her quirks well, providing laughs and a strong emotional core. A notable departure from Chris Rock's typical fare, the part of Mingus requires the comedian to play against type, and there are several instances where he actually serves as the straight man to the film's more off-the-wall characters. That's not to say that the celebrated stand-up doesn't get a few funny lines as well (his definition of a mild schizophrenic is my favorite quip in the flick), but most of Mingus' comedy comes from his befuddled reactions to the insanity around him -- and with such a crazy lot to play off of, those reactions are often priceless.
Serving as the main source of the film's insanity, Marion's family bears down upon the movie like a hurricane of quirky madness. Inappropriate, obsessed with sex, and totally lacking social filters, the trio of French visitors fuel most of the runtime's funniest moments. As Rose, Marion's physically uninhibited sister, Alexia Landeau engenders a humorous sibling rivalry, leading to some fun shouting matches between the actress and Delpy. Alexandre Nahon is also memorable in the role of Manu, Rose's idiot boyfriend. The character speaks in outdated American references and makes constant off-color remarks. Though some of his comments could potentially be offensive, Nahon does a great job of diluting his politically incorrect stupidity through naive cluelessness. The real scene-stealer here, however, is actually Albert Delpy (Julie's real-life father) who plays Marion's kooky dad. The character doesn't speak any English and his bizarre interactions with Chris Rock are hilarious. Even beyond his more outrageous antics and odd behavior, some of the elder Delpy's facial expressions are enough to elicit sizable laughs all on their own.
As funny and entertaining as the movie can be, there are some issues that lessen its impact. The nonstop pace of the first half does peter out toward the midpoint, and as a result the runtime loses some steam. The focus also shifts toward a plot point involving Marion selling her soul as part of an avant-garde art stunt, and unfortunately this bit doesn't completely jell with the rest of the narrative. There are some interesting thematic ideas, but it just feels a little out of place and disconnected from the earlier segments (though the identity of the soul's buyer is quite funny). Likewise, an emotional arc dealing with Marion's grief over her mother's death feels underdeveloped. This leads to some voiceover ruminations in the third act, that while heartfelt, don't quite carry the intended emotional effect. Certain characters could also be accused of perpetuating clichéd stereotypes, but thankfully Delpy's creations are far too manic and unique to be totally pigeonholed.
Smart, chaotic, and genuinely funny, '2 Days in New York' offers an entertaining and wonderfully eccentric break from the tried-and-true staples of its genre. While its latter half does fizzle out a bit, and some of its deeper observations aren't as fully realized as one might hope, Delpy's neurotic charm proves to be amusing -- both in front of and behind the camera. The idea of a culture clash fueled romantic comedy starring Julie Delpy and Chris Rock might seem like some sort of random napkin scribbled Mad Lib from a Hollywood pitch meeting gone wrong -- but for the most part, it actually works. Despite being a sequel, the film does a nice job of getting new viewers up to speed, and it's actually very accessible. I'm not sure how it stacks up to its predecessor, but I think it's safe to say that fans of that previous entry, and those new to Delpy's unconventional cinematic family, should both find something to enjoy here.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia Home Entertainment brings '2 Days in New York' to Blu-ray on a single BD-50 disc housed in a keepcase. Some skippable trailers play upon start up before the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is Region A compatible.
The film is presented in a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There are a few issues here and there, but the image has an overall pleasing look.
The digital source has a clean, nearly pristine quality. With that said, noise is occasionally apparent, especially in one nighttime sequence where Marion moves through the crowded streets of New York (this scene looks like it was shot on lower grade equipment). Some fleeting posterization (during a fade) and hints of aliasing are just barely visible as well. The image has sharp clarity and a great sense of fine detail, fully rendering every little nook and cranny of the couple's apartment and various small patterns (like a polka dot dress) in clothing and props. The color palette is richly saturated, and whites are bright without overpowering the image. Unfortunately, black levels are elevated throughout, leading to a slightly washed out appearance that lessens the transfer's pop and sense of depth.
'2 Days in New York' is a modest looking effort, but the sharp image offers some impressive detail. While black levels aren't ideal, the digital picture still looks nice and serves the film well.
The movie is provided with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, though a good portion of the dialogue is actually spoken in French. English (for the French portions only), English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are included. Modest but effective, this is a solid mix.
Dialogue is clear and full, letting every loud, hectic conversation come through cleanly. Minor city and nature ambiance (traffic, crowds, chirping birds) makes it away around the soundfield, but for the most part this is a frontloaded affair. Music is spread nicely, however, with pleasing range and separation. Notable directionality and surround use are minimal, but since this is a primarily dialogue driven film, that's to be expected. With that said, there are a few key instances where the soundscape opens up a bit, including a comical dream sequence, and a scene set at an art exhibition that features a chorus of paranoid whispers that surround the audience. Specific effects are also used to bolster the comedy, like a particularly loud doorbell that is appropriately annoying. There are minor balance issues with some noises sounding a bit too aggressive (a character banging his hands on the ceiling of a car, for instance) but thankfully these occurrences are rare.
While it could use a bit more immersion, refinement, and nuance, '2 Days in New York' sounds perfectly fine.
Magnolia has provided a relatively slim collection of supplements. All of the special features are presented in 1080i with DTS-HD MA 2.0 sound and hardcoded English subtitles for the foreign language portions only (unless noted otherwise).
Focused on clashing cultures, outlandish characters, and awkward interactions, '2 Days in New York' proves to be an entertaining and funny comedy from Julie Delpy. Though the film's second half loses some steam, the script's neurotic, screwball humor offers a fun watch, and it's amusing to see Chris Rock in an atypical role. The video and audio are both solid, but supplements are rather slim. Despite being a sequel, the story is very accessible to new viewers and seems to stand alone just fine. While it has clear influences, this is thankfully much more than your standard, forgettable romcom clone.