Julie Delpy’s 2007 writer-director debut, 2 Days In Paris, earned immediate, positive comparisons to vintage Woody Allen. When the sequel, 2 Days In New York, premièred at Sundance in early 2012, critics immediately said she’d upped the Allen ante with a more conscious imitation. The comparison is understandable, given the film’s New York setting and its expanded cast of squabbling, eccentric, neurotic characters who chatter obliviously over each other. But Delpy’s work lacks Allen’s wry humor and eye-rolling, philosophical acceptance of those characters and their quirks. Her stable of sniping couples and relatives are openly hateful in ways that defy comedy.
Delpy revisits her 2 Days In Paris character, a strident French ex-pat now living in New York City, raising her child by previous boyfriend Adam Goldberg, while living with current boyfriend Chris Rock. Their relationship is considerably less tense than her previous one, until her family visits. Her coarse, impulse-driven, food-obsessed father (played by her real-life father, career actor Albert Delpy) greets her by decrying the lack of private spaces in her apartment, and asking where he’ll be able to jerk off. Her self-aggrandizing sister (Alexia Landeau) greets her by revealing that she’s sleeping with one of Delpy’s exes (Alex Nahon), and she brought him along without asking. Soon, Nahon is inviting a pot dealer to deliver weed to Delpy’s apartment, he and Landeau are loudly fucking in the bathroom while using Rock’s electric toothbrush as a sex toy, and Delpy senior is smugly keying New York cars. Understandably, Rock is overwhelmed and frustrated, particularly when Delpy and Landeau get into screaming, hair-pulling fights in French, both at the dinner table and in public, in front of a politico Rock is trying to impress.
But the sequel doesn’t address any of this with the lightness that would make it funny, or the insight that would prompt empathy. Delpy and her relatives act selfish and stupid, and Rock leads the audience in reacting with bemusement, but beyond a brief exchange or two, the characters never look deeper into why Delpy is a different person around her family, or why she accepts or enables their behavior. There’s no shape or direction to the story, apart from in the emotional side plot that involves Delpy contractually selling her soul as a performance-art piece, then worrying about the implications.
The strange thing about 2 Days In New York is that it easily could have been a personal film. Delpy’s mother, Marie Pillet, who played her mother in the first film, died before this one was made; the movie opens with Delpy explaining to her toddler son, through hand puppets, her father’s grief and need to be around people. And yet the film fails to further acknowledge his mourning, or give him a richer role to play than “dirty old man who speaks comically bad English.” Similarly, Delpy based some of the movie’s incidents on her own family, but without finding the humor or affection in them, or addressing the positives and negatives of relationships in general. Where Paris at least balanced the dynamic between Delpy’s volatile character and Goldberg’s sour, judgmental one, and explored the tensions that drive people together and apart, New York is just a heap of one-sided annoying behavior. Without so much as a wink, it presents the French as racist, stinky, crude, self-absorbed, and obnoxious. It isn’t a culture-clash comedy, so much as culture character assassination.