Julie Delpy's 2 Days in New York resembles a Woody Allen comedy, but there's more than one kind of Woody Allen comedy. The film combines a couple of classic Allen approaches: the thoughtful, character-based humor of Annie Hall and the farce of early, funny movies like Bananas. I'm afraid the combination is unwieldy in 2 Days in New York, which Delpy directed, co-wrote and co-produced. Even so, I laughed a lot. Delpy, you'll recall, was luminous in Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.
There are elements of yet a third Allen mode, the whimsy of Midnight in Paris. You see some of that in the film's opening scene, a puppet show that recapitulates a few details of Delpy's 2 Days in Paris (2007); 2 Days in New York is its sequel. Delpy's character, Marion, a photographer, has split up with the man she dated in the earlier film, and now she lives in a New York apartment with her journalist boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock) and their kids from previous relationships. Marion and Mingus are comfortable together, but the sex is iffy.
Into their home bursts a noisy French trio, all characters from 2 Days in Paris: Marion's widowed father (Albert Delpy, Julie's real-life father); her prickly, exhibitionist sister (Alexia Landeau); and Manu, the sister's doltish boyfriend (Alexandre Nahon). Their visit unfolds over Halloween weekend, during which Marion aggressively insults a critic at her gallery opening, Mingus snarks on the radio about his home life, and Marion's relatives cause chaos wherever they go.
The visitors' antics, especially those of Delpy's father, are often funny, but she lets them get out of hand. There is material here for a well-observed comedy about family dynamics - I'm especially struck by something Mingus says to Marion: "Ever since your family got here, you've become another person." But the performers' scenery-chewing obliterates nuance. In fact, what's funniest about the broadly farcical scenes is Rock's composure as he watches them unfold. He does a slow burn that would make Jack Benny proud. Rock is such an expert comedian, and this performance is finely tuned.
One running gag relates to Manu's cluelessness when it comes to the thorny matter of race in America, which turns out to be the film's most interesting theme. Marion and Mingus, a biracial couple, are part of an arty, bourgeois New York stratum that ought to have moved beyond race, but clearly hasn't. Manu keeps making gaffes when he meets people of color. It seems he hasn't learned the polite American approach to discussing race, which is to avoid the topic whenever possible.