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By Alex Lynchehaun
The chances are, if you like Outnumbered, you’ll like Julie Delpy’s Two Days in New York; the follow-up to her 2007 success, Two Days in Paris. It relies on the same naturalistic depiction of middle-class life, and suffers from the same tendency towards self-absorption. Just like the BBC series it features an understated yet attractive woman in her late thirties, struggling to stay afloat in a chaotic household, and riffs off the eccentricity of her family throughout.
Those who have seen Two Days in Paris will already be familiar with certain members of the ensemble cast, but much has changed since 2007’s Parisian adventure.
Marion (Delpy), has moved to New York to pursue photography and begun dating Mingus (Chris Rock), a straight-laced radio DJ who suffers from culture shock when confronted by his new girlfriend’s extroverted French family.
The star of the show is Jeannot (Albert Delpy), the mad father-in-law. He works brilliantly against Rock’s straight-man, an unlikely dynamic culminating in Jeannot tickling Mingus with a feather and repeating ‘Peter Fonda, Peter Fonda!’
In tow are Marion’s exhibitionist sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and her try-hard, dope-smoking boyfriend Manu (Alexandre Nahon), with a penchant for cringe-worthy comments. Perhaps the most excruciating example is his declaration at dinner that his only regret is not being black, a moment with an air of David Brent.
Cringe humour is not the crux of the show, however, and Delpy generally tries to drive the piece with its absurdity. Unfortunately her efforts are largely in vain, and there are points where the film lacks drive altogether.
One comes in a bizarre subplot that sees Marion sell her soul in a contract as a conceptual art-piece. Whilst the strangeness of this strand adds to the sense of disorientation, it feels like a pointless tangent.
What’s more, Two Days in New York is a stylistic magpie nest. Whilst Delpy can be applauded for her gusto in trying to cram so much in, the lack of consistency leaves the film lacking an overarching identity. A disaster at Marion’s exhibition, for example, sees the Hannah and her Sisters style switch straight into a watered down version of Michel Gondry-esque surrealism. The ideas are there, and drama in Marion’s professional life spices up the tedious plot, but the execution feels a little clunky.
It’s perhaps harsh to be too damning of Two Days in New York, though. The film represents family politics in a perceptive and original way with interesting, if grating, characters. Where it falls down is in its lack of cogency; it treads a fine line between comedy and drama, naturalism and surrealism, and doesn’t manage to achieve synthesis.