If you’re looking to improve box office, it might make sense to replace Adam Goldberg with Chris Rock. As a leading man opposite director Julie Delpy in 2 Days in Paris, Goldberg chiseled a bit of comic gold, but he was hardly a draw for most moviegoers. Rock, who replaces him in 2 Days in New York, is a star with proven appeal, even if his on-screen timing has always been a poor cousin to his stage persona. But, as it turns out, this tradeoff is costly.
Paris is a neatly bottled-up romantic comedy about a couple subjected to the pressures of family and miscommunication when Marion (Delpy) brings her boyfriend (Goldberg) home for a first visit. In the new film, which opens in theaters 10 August and is also available on VOD, Marion is living in New York with a new boyfriend, Mingus (Rock), when her family comes to see them. As Marion already lives in a near-permanent state of nervous anxiety, she’s less than happy about the visit, especially since it coincides with the opening of her first photography exhibition and possible pregnancy.
The film’s volatile mixture of personalities detonates with decently timed precision in the opening stretches. Marion’s father Jeannot (played again by Delpy’s real father) is an ill-smelling creature of Brobdingnagian appetites and only the barest knowledge of English, while her sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) is a psychological train wreck of exhibitionist and self-destructive impulses; she brings along Manu (Alex Nahon), Marion’s ex- and Rose’s semi-current lover. The squabbling trio crowds into the couple’s tiny downtown Manhattan apartment, leaving Marion a bit manic and her previously genial boyfriend aghast.
This bad houseguest scenario produces three, maybe four jokes, mostly based in personality clashes compounded by language difficulties. In one scene, Manu blithely invites a pot dealer into the apartment in front of Mingus and Marion’s children (each has one from a previous relationship), and in another, Rose twists Mingus’ discomfort at her nudity into the belief that he’s obsessed with her. The storyline built on these clashes, however, is repetitive and claustrophobic and, eventually, frantically unfunny.
Rock’s presence only makes the film’s weaknesses more glaring. He’s always been strangely stiff starring in narrative films, more effectively dynamic in brief supporting roles. Here, he’s trying to play a different type of character, a jazz-loving writer with an ill-defined radio show and prone to jags of observational critique (some directed at the life-size cutout of Barack Obama he keeps in his office for “moral support”). Playing the straight man for Marion’s increasingly disturbing flights of psychological frenzy (she pretends to have a brain tumor during a fight with a neighbor, abandons her child at the photo gallery), leaves Rock trying to convey quietly repressed outrage, not exactly his strong suit as an actor. The majority of his scenes with Delpy fall flat.
You’d think that Rock would at least provide 2 Days in New York with some site-specific observational humor, details of the sort that buoyed Paris. But, save for a couple of references to the Village Voice and Central Park, this film might as well be set anywhere. It catches some nice local color in handheld shots of the Halloween Parade, but Delpy is so busy showing Marion’s mental messiness that the film loses track of where she lives and works, or why. An especially off-key subplot has Marion auctioning off her soul (represented by a notarized contract) as a gimmick at her photography opening, which seems at first to be a joke about the jaded New York art scene, but turns into a ham-fisted allegory for her desperation to succeed.
Such desperation infuses 2 Days in New York, which returns again and again to unoriginal jokes about Marion’s crazy family. The performers do creditable work until at last they seem to be spinning plates. By the time Delpy gets to her flaccidly ruminative conclusion, though, those plates have all crashed to the floor.