Pity Julie Delpy, if the actress/auteur indeed writes what she knows. Her latest creation, 2 Days in New York, is an even more chaotic screed than her nearly unwatchable 2007 film, 2 Days in Paris. Both feature her character, a Frenchwoman named Marion who lives in Manhattan, and her current relationship. Both involve visits with Marion’s certifiable family, which includes an especially crazy father played by Delpy’s own. And both feel like Woody Allen on speed, only with neuroses flipped into cocksureness and everyone bickering, bickering, bickering until you want to reach into the screen and punch them all in the face. It’s nails on a fucking chalkboard.
If that’s your kind of thing, then Delpy’s a maestro. 2 Days in New York opens by explaining how Marion became involved with Mingus (Chris Rock, the calmest presence here), her co-worker and confidant when she broke up with her boyfriend from the previous movie. They quickly moved in together, each with a child from their former romances. Marion’s a photographer getting ready for a big gallery exhibit. (One of the items up for sale? Her soul.) Mingus is a radio-show host getting ready for a visit from Marion’s father Jeannot (Albert Delpy) and sister Rose (Alexia Landeau, who gets a co-scripting credit). But the couple are surprised when Rose brings along her dirtbag boyfriend and Marion’s ex, Manu (Alex Nahon). They all stay, in various degrees of comfort, in Marion and Mingus’ apartment. (“Where will I jerk off?” Dad asks. Charming.)
The family’s stay is all language barriers, racially ignorant remarks, epic quarreling, and general buffoonery. Jeannot is especially grating: Albert’s either a really, really good actor or really, really insane. He is a close-talking, TMI old man in a bushy, Claude Monet beard who likes to key cars, bug his eyes out, and generally resemble a demented Santa. Rose and Manu act like teenagers, too, with the former traipsing around the apartment nearly or completely naked and both of them smoking pot (that Manu bought from a stranger he invited to Marion’s place) in the residence’s elevator with no regard for the non-French-speaking neighbor riding with them. It’s pandemonium.
Rock’s Mingus is the only likeable presence here, a generally noncombative foil to the out-of-control relatives. But in tamping down his characteristic mania behind thick nerd glasses, Rock unfortunately muffles his humor, too. Marion, meanwhile, is argumentative, unreasonable, childish, and a borderline negligent parent. (In 2 Days in Paris, she was merely a self-involved floozy.)
Why Delpy would write such an irredeemably unpleasant character for herself is a mystery. She may be attempting to capture an uglier, anti-Rockwellian side of family life and relationships, but she’s stepped past the line of reality into caricature; having unrealistically childish people yell at each other for an hour and a half isn’t exactly the stuff of social enlightenment. At the end of the film, Marion proclaims it a love story. If that’s true, I never want to see a love story again.
Dark Horse Directed by Todd Solondz
Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse has a boor at its center, too, yet it remains tolerable largely because there’s only one loudmouth to listen to here. That doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable, however. Solondz has slowly gone off the rails in recent years, with the ink-black humor and incisive social commentary of early films like Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse curdling into the empty gimmickry and unrelatable characters of Palindromes and Life During Wartime. He returns to straight storytelling (with the occasional dashes of surrealism) in Dark Horse, and though you can imagine its leading man existing in some sad universe, that doesn’t guarantee a compelling narrative.
Abe (Jordan Gelber) is an overweight, angry thirtysomething who still lives with his parents (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken) and works for his father in real estate. He’s pissed while he’s at work and he’s pissed when he comes home, usually walking straight by his folks to his action figure-decorated room without saying a word. Abe knows that his sorry life is about to change, though, when he meets the morose Miranda (Selma Blair) at a wedding. She looks positively stricken as the two of them watch everyone else dancing, and she barely acknowledges him when he asks if he can call her—but she says yes anyway. Not surprisingly, she forgets who he is when he does, but agrees to a date anyhow. So Abe visits that weekend (Miranda also lives with her parents) and asks her to marry him. She freaks initially but eventually says yes, telling him, “I want to want you.”
Why? Because this gorgeous girl is just that desperate, apparently. Admittedly, she’s obviously got some baggage, too—depression’s a given, and there’s also another issue she keeps from him for an entire date. (Which entails sitting around and drinking soda.) Abe makes one reference to her taking too much medication, though we never see her with so much as a pill. Way too much happens offscreen in Dark Horse that’s talked about later; meanwhile, fantasy sequences become increasingly blurred with reality. The passage of time only becomes more ambiguous as the weak plot creaks forward.
Most of the film focuses not on the relationship but on Abe himself, whether he’s throwing a fit over his meek mother’s concern or demanding to see a manager at the toy store when a clerk won’t allow him to return something. (“You’ll be hearing from my attorney!” he yells before storming off.) Abe is bitter, drives a Hummer, and says things like “a-duhr” in response to, a-duhr, how stupid other people are. Want to spend 90 minutes with this guy? No matter how much of a rut Miranda seems to be in—and she’s not all that bad off, as evidenced by how she comes to life when they meet up with her ex-boyfriend—it’s just not credible that she’d glom onto Abe.
Solondz seems to be making a statement about arrested development and the harsh realities of loneliness and age, but it’s so clumsily and irritatingly executed that his arguments remain difficult to see. Abe believes that “we’re all horrible people” and “humanity’s a fucking cesspool.” If he were representative of the human race, he’d be speaking the truth. In reality, he’s just another black mark on Solondz’s fringe.