When we last left Marion (Julie Delpy) in 2 Days in Paris, she and her boyfriend, Jack (the Adam Goldberg character), were gradually coming to the realization that they weren’t compatible. This was during a two-day trip to Marion’s hometown of Paris, where Jack, an American, was in the thick of life-altering culture shock. Although the film ended with the two of them in an embrace, there was the inescapable sense that they would not make it as a couple. And indeed, 2 Days in New York begins with Marion telling the audience, via a simplistic fairytale-like voiceover narration and a crude puppet theater, that she and Jack had split up – but not before Jack fathered her son. She’s now back in New York and living with a radio talk show host named Mingus (Chris Rock), who has a younger daughter from a previous marriage. They have successfully formed a blended family and, by all appearances, are quite content.
But then Marion’s family arrives from France for a two-day vacation. There’s her goofy father, Jeannot (Delpy’s real life father, Albert), a new widower who tried unsuccessfully to smuggle a series of salamis into the country under his clothing. His English is just as bad as it ever was, and when the mood strikes him, he still has a lot of fun digging keys into the sides of parked cars. And then there’s her sister, Rose (Alexia Landeau), who does whatever she can to be a rival and an annoyance. She will, for example, use her training as a child psychologist to overanalyze situations and find problems where none exist, even going so far as to suggest Marion’s son is autistic. She will wander the apartment nude in full view of Mingus. She will attend one of Marion’s yoga classes knowing full well she isn’t wearing a bra. She will ask the wrong questions, start catfights, and in general be snippy.
She’s also, as we soon discover, a bit of a sex maniac. Here enters her boyfriend, Manu (Alex Nahon), who tags along on the vacation without having been invited. If you recall from 2 Days in Paris, Manu was once Marion’s boyfriend, one of many, much to the shock of Adam Goldberg’s character. Manu is an absolute train wreck of a guest – a rude, obnoxious, ignorant, insensitive man who wouldn’t know tact even if it came up and bit him. He will clip his toenails at the dining room table while everyone is eating breakfast. When he first arrives, he thinks he’s being smooth when he asks Mingus where he can score some pot; when Mingus replies that he has long since given the habit up, Manu can only mutter in French, “The only black man who doesn’t smoke.” He will loudly have sex with Rose in Mingus’ bathroom, and it’s quite possible they made use of his electric toothbrush.
Adding fuel to the fire is Marion, who has always been a bit impulsive and becomes hopelessly neurotic when in the presence of her family. It’s almost as if being in her natural element stirs up thoughts and behaviors repressed by her Americanization. In the previous film, you may recall, she almost got into a physical altercation with an ex-boyfriend who made frequent sex trips to Thailand; in this film, simply being in the presence of her family makes her behave abnormally. Could there be something more going on? As she struggles to maintain personal and domestic stability, she frets over an upcoming exhibition of her photography, part of which will involve the auctioning off of her soul. Although it’s really just a conceptual artistic experiment (Marion doesn’t believe in the existence of an actual soul), the film still entertains the notion that actor and filmmaker Vincent Gallo is the devil.
Mingus, unquestionably the film’s most rational character, will understandably struggle to keep his sanity in check. His favorite method of coping with stress is locking himself in his office and having one-sided conversations with a life-sized cardboard cutout of Barack Obama. It’s not as if he doesn’t try to make the best of the situation; he simply realizes after a while that certain relationships aren’t meant to be. In one of the film’s most interesting scenes, the ever-present language barrier prevents Mingus and Jeannot from having a meaningful conversation during dinner, as does Manu’s apparent inability to accurately translate English into French. Example: When Mingus explains that he has two talk shows on public radio and one on Sirius, Manu tells Jeannot, “He says he has the flu, and it may be serious.”
Although Julie Delpy doesn’t wear as many hats as she did for its predecessor – having relinquished music, singing, and editorial responsibilities to others – she still had a great deal of creative control over 2 Days in New York, serving as the star, the director, and the producer. This time, she shares screenwriting credit with two other people, which may account for the film’s appropriately chaotic screwball tone. Indeed, the film is funny, albeit in a humanistic sort of way; we laugh because most of the characters are just as annoying as they are loveable, and whether or not we care to admit it, we can see something of ourselves in them. As was the case with 2 Days in Paris, we’re not pressured into feeling any particular way about anyone. We see their faults just as plainly as we see their strong suits, and at no point is anything reduced to simple black and white terms.