March 14, 2013

Double Feature! Spending 2 DAYS IN PARIS And 2 DAYS IN NEW YORK Was Exhausting

"...Is this who you really are and you've just been hiding it from me the whole time?  Or is this just some isolated incident that'll never happen again?."
Monday night kind of got away from me and by the time I sat down for a screening, it was already about 9:30pm and I was starting to get a little sleepy.  I had intended to watch Bullhead, a Belgian drama that was up for the Best Foreign Film Oscar last year, but I knew that a dark, subtitled drama was not going to play well at that point, so instead I chose to go with something lighter.  I decided on Julie Delpy's 2 Days In New York and I had almost pressed play when I remembered that it was actually a sequel to Delpy's other film, 2 Days In Paris.  It only made sense to watch that one first, although I quickly realized that a film set in France is, of course, rife with subtitles.

Oh well.

I ended up watching New York the next day and so I've decided to do one big write up on both, partially as a time saver, but also because I had similar issues with both movies.

Let's start with 2 Days In Paris.  Marion (Delpy) and her boyfriend Jack (The Hebrew Hammer himself, Adam Goldberg) have just spend two weeks in Venice and are stopping in Paris to stay with Marion's family on their way home to New York.  Jack, an intelligent and cynical neurotic, has never met Marion's family, has never been to France and knows only a few French phrases to get himself through basic interactions.  Marion, a photographer with a slight visual impairment, is thrilled to show Jack all her favorite things in Paris and introduce him to family and old friends.  Unfortunately for Jack, those friends include quite a few ex-boyfriends, some of whom are still a little hung up on Marion.  Over the course of their trip, Marion's behavior starts to grow more and more erratic as she's pushed and prodded in different directions by Jack, her father, her sister Rose, and ex-lovers Manu and Matthieu.  Meanwhile Jack begins to suspect she may have cheated on him the last time she was in Paris and he grows more frustrated as even the city itself seemingly turns on him.  Eventually the two come to emotional blows and a fight ensues.  While it seems the two have broken up, the film closes on the two of them dancing on the sidewalk to the music of a street musician, echoing a wish that Marion imagined earlier after the two had parted ways in anger.

While I can't exactly say I've had the same experience as Jack, last year I both traveled to Europe for the first time with my wife (who, coincidentally, once lived in Paris) and also spent Christmas in her hometown of New Orleans with the rest of her family.  I certainly get the exhaustion of being at the end of a long trip, especially since Jack and I both suffered from food poisoning on our journeys.  Combine that with the general chaos of being surrounded by strangers who all have pre-established relationships, further complicated by not being able to understand what anyone is saying, and it's your basic nightmare scenario.  Fortunately I never had it nearly as bad as Jack, but I could still sympathize with the guy.  It doesn't hurt that Adam Goldberg is hysterical, easily the best thing in the movie.  (I cracked up when he's mistaken for a purse snatcher and his only defense to the cops is to yell out, "Le doppleganger!")  Unfortunately, Jack's storyline suffers mightily from contrivance; his suspicion that Marion was/is cheating on him stems from a series of out of context misunderstandings and eventually it becomes cartoonish, bordering on sitcom-y.

Then again, the audience can hardly blame him since Marion tells us in voiceover that she's willing to lie to Jack if she thinks she can get away with it.  This inherently makes her an untrustworthy narrator/protagonist and when some circumstantial evidence arises that she may have cheated on him, I'm very willing to believe that Marion's lying when she claims innocence.  It doesn't help that when she and Jack get in a fight, she goes to see her ex Matthieu and lets him try to kiss her.  Her behavior is more than a bit batty.  She shows her family a picture of Jack naked with balloons tied to his dick, and then when Jack finds the exact same picture of an ex tucked into a book, she fails to see why Jack is upset and she claims that it's all basically a giant coincidence.  She appears at times to be almost manic, ping-ponging between extreme emotional states in the blink of an eye.  It reaches a climax when they end up in a cafe next to yet another ex-boyfriend who broke up with her when he moved to Thailand.  She not only starts screaming at him in the middle of the cafe, she tries to physically assault him and has to be restrained twice before she and Jack are finally kicked out.  More frustrating still, when Jack tries to confront her about it afterwards, she doesn't seem to appreciate the lunacy of her own actions.

But man, Marion is downright TAME compared to the shit she pulls in 2 Days In New York.  Set years later, she and Jack are no longer together, although they do have a son named Lulu.  Marion now lives with her boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock) who has a daughter of his own from a previous marriage.  Marion's father and sister, Rose, are coming to visit for the first time and they've brought Manu with them unannounced, as he and Rose are sort of a couple.  Hijinks ensue.

And I mean straight up HIJINKS.

Paris feels like an intellectual indie film punctuated with moments of conventional levity.  New York is the opposite, an overly broad comedy that wants you to think it's got indie cred.  Our introduction to Marion's father shows him stuck at immigration because he tried to smuggle 30 lbs of cheese and sausages into the country, mostly taped to his body.  When Marion encounters a nasty neighbor who threatens to get them kicked out of their apartment, she makes up a story about having a terminal brain tumor, which she and Mingus then have to defend when the woman sends her doctor husband over to help.  It's okay though, because he's too distracted by Rose walking around the apartment wearing no pants to realize that the story is bullshit.  Delpy must think that the character of Manu is hilarious, since she brought him back for no particular reason, (Alexandre Nahon is credited as a co-writer along with Delpy and Landeau) but every time he opened his mouth I wanted to punch it shut.  He tries to do this "charmingly racist" thing where he tells Mingus's sister that she looks like Beyonce, (she doesn't) and thinks that Mingus's friend who works for Obama is actually Kal Penn just because he's Indian.  He also calls a drug dealer to the apartment in the middle of family dinner.  Manu is terrible, and I was psyched when he got deported for rolling a joint in front of a police station.

But Manu is nothing compared to Marion.  Here she's absolutely, irredeemably NUTS.  She and Rose are constantly at each other's throats, culminating in a loud argument in a restaurant, each yelling and pulling each other's hair, probably ruining Mingus's chance to interview his idol, President Obama.  (Some of my favorite bits were Rock engaged in long, one-sided conversations in his office with an Obama cardboard cutout.)  Her fake cancer story, which is a dead weight around the movie's neck for 20 solid minutes, comes back at the end when the neighbors go to Marion's photography exhibit and start a buying frenzy because they think the pictures will be worth more when she's dead.  Marion's been planning an elaborate stunt, ostensibly as some kind of artistic statement, where she "sells her soul" for a hefty fee, basically just signing a meaningless contract that the buyer can put on display.  It sells to an anonymous party for about half what she was expecting, but in the middle of the show she freaks out and runs off, leaving Mingus alone with her nutty family and the kids to track down the buyer and retrieve her soul.  (In a really bizarre twist, the buyer turns out to be Vincent Gallo, playing himself, who tells her he wants a backup soul and is keeping the contract in a felt pouch by his nuts.)

I couldn't help but feel bad for Chris Rock.  He's fine here, but hamstrung by a script that essentially gives him nothing to do.  Both he and Adam Goldberg are naturally funny guys, but at least Jack's situation is a little more compelling.  He's in a foreign country, trying to deal with customs and a language he does not understand, while simultaneously wanting to make a good impression on his girlfriend's family and friends.  Mingus, on the other hand, is on his home turf and stuck watching helplessly as Marion's family takes over and fucks up his whole world.  He spends the whole movie quietly exasperated, the constantly put-upon man who never really gets the chance to put his foot down and reign in the madness.

When Jack and Marion fight at the end, Jack tells Marion that their trip to Paris has made him realize that he doesn't really know her, implying that her recent behavior is not indicative of their life together in the States.  After Marion finally returns to Mingus in tears after confronting Vincent Gallo, Mingus essentially makes the same argument in the quote at the top.  I'm sort of left wondering the same thing.  Are we to believe that Marion is really a perfectly sweet, reasonable person whose family pushes her to the brink of madness?  Or is it the other way around?  Is she really unhinged and just covers it when she's in a relationship?  I feel like Delpy would answer that the former is true, especially since New York ends with Marion and Mingus living happily ever after with a child of their own.  Either way, this franchise essentially boils down to a boyfriend discovering that his girlfriend has a hidden crazy side and the attempt to figure out how that impacts their relationship.  Is it something he can live with and potentially learn to love, even if it only comes out when her family is around?  Or is that occasional instability a deal breaker?

It's hard to shake the idea that the 2 Days saga is basically the same movie made twice with one minor tweak.  Essentially, it's The Hangover or Home Alone, minus most of the comedy.  The frustrating part is that both films are decently directed by Delpy.  She makes good use of still images, using Marion's photography as a sort of flip book at times.  I'd be very curious to see her direct somebody else's script, because I think she mostly suffers from a case of self-indulgence.  She's obviously in love with the character of Marion and I'm sure she was a blast to play, but she's not nearly as fun to watch.  Delpy is best known for playing Celine opposite Ethan Hawke in Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.  In a way, it feels like Marion is almost a caricature of Celine, with all of the raw emotion but none of the cerebral grace.

Fortunately Celine will soon return in Linklater's third volume, Before Midnight.  I hear Delpy crushes it.

I certainly hope so.

Title: 2 Days In Paris
Director: Julie Delpy
Starring: Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, Alexia Landeau, Albert Delpy, Daniel Bruhl
Year Of Release: 2007
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant (TV)

Title: 2 Days In New York
Director: Julie Delpy
Starring: Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Alexia Landeau, Albert Delpy, Alexandre Nahon
Year Of Release: 2012
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant (Laptop)

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