If Woody Allen were an attractive French woman — I’m sure he’s had fantasies about this — he might come up with something like 2 Days in New York, Julie Delpy’s engagingly loopy comedy about the ways our families drive us nuts. The movie’s a follow-up to the actress-writer-director’s 2 Days in Paris (2007), but you don’t have to have seen the earlier film. Chatty, neurotic, maddeningly messy, often very funny, New York spins in a lunatic orbit of its own.
But it would be a lesser planet entirely if Chris Rock weren’t involved. He plays Mingus, a writer and NPR radio host who is the latest live-in love of Marion (Delpy), an artist now residing in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Mingus is the film’s straight man and Delpy gives him much to be straight about, since Marion’s father and sister have just arrived from Paris for an extended stay. The father’s an old goat played by the star’s own dad, Albert Delpy, and the sister, Rose, is played by Alexia Landeau, who co-wrote the script. The whole movie has the feel of a shaggy-dog story cooked up over a pot of pasta and several bottles of Bordeaux.
Rose brings along her current flame (and a long-ago ex of Marion’s), Manu (Alex Nahon), who is one of the great idiot Frenchmen of recent movies. Calling in a pot delivery during a family dinner with Mingus’s young daughter (Talen Riley), clipping his toenails at the table, indulging in unspeakable sexual practices with his host’s electric toothbrush, Manu is a glorious boor, and proof positive of the old adage about houseguests and fish. With Manu, it’s three minutes rather than three days.
Rose, meanwhile, likes to walk about the apartment in the nude and flirt with Mingus (or "Min-GOOSE," as the interlopers call him). The sisters’ decades-long rivalry reaches a peak in a restaurant scene in which Manu mistakes an acquaintance of Mingus’s who works in the Obama administration for "that guy from the Harold and Kumar movies."
Marion also has an art opening coming up, and there’s a labored subplot about a conceptual piece in which she has offered her soul to the highest bidder. It pays off (sort of) with the appearance of a downtown indie-movie icon playing himself, but by that point, Marion and the movie have both collapsed in a frazzled heap. 2 Days in New York posits its heroine as a hipster Lucy Ricardo, and some of the tangents have a decidedly sitcom twist. When Marion lets a stuffy neighbor couple believe she has an inoperable brain tumor, only the deft underplaying of Dylan Baker and Kate Burton keep the bit from descending into shtick.
What works best is the gleeful, loaded culture clash between French entitlement and American uptightness — that and the knowledge that we rarely get the families we think we deserve (and vice versa). And whenever Delpy’s nervous chatter threatens to overwhelm 2 Days in New York, all Rock has to do is lift one of those cartoon eyebrows to bring her dithering and the movie to a place of blissful comic serenity.