When it comes to Julie Delpy, the key question remains the old Barbra Streisand one. Namely, how much of her can you take in one sitting? A dedicated movie-polymath, effortlessly bilingual and scooping the best of both Old and New World, Delpy resembles a bizarre version of Miranda July: Instead of celebrating lonely quirks of a self-centered sensibility, she throws herself (and the viewer) into a comic vortex of agitated, super-busy scenes of noisy familial squabbles and cerebral lovers’ quarrels, which seems a projection of her own coyly humane view of life.
Her new movie is a sequel to 2 Days in Paris, in which she played a fabulously promiscuous European chick to Adam Goldberg’s perpetually shocked American straight man. Five years have passed, and Goldberg is no longer in the picture: Delpy’s character, Marion, is now living in New York with a new partner, Mingus (Chris Rock), and two children—one of hers and one of his. As befits a typical New York couple, Mingus is a radio-show host (and a Village Voice reporter, no less), while Marion prepares to open a debut photo exhibition, frankly examining her previous sexual relationships and involving a public act of a (literal) “selling of her soul” to an anonymous buyer.
A minor apocalypse begins when Marion’s Parisian family decides to visit and thus wreaks havoc by means of some jumbo-sized continental messiness that Delpy seems to satirize and fetishize at the same time. Marion’s sister (Alexia Landeau) is an affable nympho and an overall tough cookie, accompanied by a sleazeball of a boyfriend (Alex Nahon) who manages to get himself deported in no time by smoking weed on the street—but not before complimenting Delpy’s African-American friend by saying she looks “just like Beyoncé, only sexier,” as if no person of color had ever joined him for a meal back in the old country. It’s Marion’s father, though, who represents French esprit at its most anarchic and—also literally—pungent. The ease with which provokes wide-eyed double takes on Rock’s part, invading his gentile sense of private space and civility, makes him a bite-size version of Michel Simon’s memorable Boudu from Jean Renoir masterpiece Boudu Saved from Drowning.
2 Days in New York is nothing if not calculated. Delpy is expert at pushing generic buttons and serving stale jokes as if she has just come up with them between her morning bagel and an afternoon brioche. If there’s a narcissism to be detected in the whole project, its roots are easily discernible right up there on the screen, in the person of Delpy’s actual father, Albert Delpy, playing the role of Marion’s dad. Delpy Sr. is a quintessential ham, having a blast as the cheese-stuffed and sex-starved curmudgeon, whose palpable pride of his daughter’s achievement seems to hover within and outside of his character in equal measure.
Ultimately, the movie—however level-headed, sincere, and genuinely searching—represents a fluffy scrapbook-like approach to filmmaking, which may make anyone allergic to home-made puppet shows (as well as to metaphorical scenes of saving birds in Central Park and philosophical coffee-table riffs with Vincent Gallo) bolt to the door several times. Delpy has definitely succeeded in creating a comic persona, the inspiration for which isn’t hard to trace. As you watch her (bespectacled, garrulously neurotic, desperately secular and striving to be “an artist”), you witness a perfect case of spiritual cloning: Delpy has become, to an almost discomfiting extent, a distaff, semi-continental version of Woody Allen at his warmest and most gentrified.
Katie and Laura (Ari Graynor and Lauren Anne Miller), the emotionally and economically challenged friends of Jamie Travis’s For a Good Time, Call…, deal with the hard times (which, in the world of this movie, means reluctantly sharing a giant Gramercy Park apartment) by establishing a hit sex phone line by the catchy name of 1-800-MMMH-MMM. With Katie as foul-mouthed as Laura is (initially) demure, they’re a perfect team—the former providing all the inspired moaning and masturbation fodder she can muster, and the latter taking care of the business end of things only (up to a point).
The movie is a garish, bitchy, and mostly flat-out unfunny examination of how selling sex doesn’t make one an expert in dealing with it in one’s own life. Travis’s fixation on elaborate, if rarely inspired, sex talk, embedded in assorted candy-colored garishness and served by a talented cast in a conspicuously tongue-in-cheek manner, makes For a Good Time, Call… play like a klutzy Glee and Sex and the City mash-up—or, depending on one’s preferred frame of reference, a poor man’s Whit Stillman flick.
In its portrayal of quick-witted young women desperate to make a living despite testy economic conditions, the movie also brings to mind the Depression comedies of 1930s, such as Lowell Sherman’s The Greeks Had a Word for Them, and in fact one can see the affably vulgar Graynor as a Ginger Rogers update, spiced with a soupcon of Kim Cattrall’s post-sexual-revolution empowered SATC tart. Unlike the best Depression comedies, though, For a Good Time, Call… seems to be faking its good spirits and never takes off to become an inspired take on how fast talking and risk-taking can sustain you through many a rough patch. The lesser the depression, the lesser the comedies, I guess.
Among other breaches of comedic taste, the film is not above using a stereotypical gay character of every girl’s genie-like fixer-friend (played here by a game Justin Long), with a Glee-addicted (yes) cute lil’ doggie named Zelda by his lap. Even though in the end things between Katie and Laura get considerably queered up, as well, the movie dodges any firm resolution, instead opting for a soufflé-light ending that will challenge no one’s notion of what a good time really is—namely, walking into a Gramercy Park building with a person you love on a sunny New York day. It’s as easy to say “duh” to that vision, as it is to retch at the mere thought of the total gentrification of romance it represents. To see where it all leads up to, do check out Julie Delpy’s latest, of course.
The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 19—29.