An Anxious Comedy About Boundaries

Marion (Julie Delpy) and Mingus (Chris Rock), both with children from previous situations, live the typical mundane life one would hope to establish in the modern world of messed-up relationships.  The film opens on a typical evening in the couple’s bed – complete with nerdy glasses, sarcastic pillow talk and a healthy libido. Their relationship is pushed to its limits when their peaceful apartment is unceremoniously taken over by Marion’s boisterous French family.

Her Father, fun-loving Jeannot (played by Julie Delpy’s real life father, Albert Delpy), the exhibitionist sister (Alexia Landeau) and ex, Manu (Alexander Nahon), shake the foundation in this anxious comedy about the boundaries of relationships, family and self.

This is not a turn-off-your-brain-let-it-wash-over-you film; it will likely send your emotions whirling between fits of giggles to emphatic distress and back again in moments. Articulate overlapping chatter melds French and English dialogue, playfully exaggerated stereotypes and a bombardment of sexual references where you’d least expect them.

This film is for both French and American audiences with assumptions on both sides creating a cultural divide between Marion’s visiting relatives and Mingus’ middleclass American family. Although over-exaggerated, actors remain true to their characters’ quirks and bring elements of sincerity to each bizarre situation as the film unfolds. Marion’s nympho sister, Rose and sleazy ex, Manu paint a picture of the sex-crazed French, bent on corrupting the distressed couple for no other reason than sheer amusement. While her father, Jeannot, adopts a more traditional French stereotype attempting to smuggle French cheese and sausages into American and refusing to bend to American social standards – such as bathing.

A glimpse of hope for positive French- American relations peek through as Albert Delpy’s character delves deeper to find moment of pure human engagement, padded on both sides by comedic intimacy and cheerful one-liners.

As the film progresses we watch as Marion’s life quickly unravels, after all, this is only two days in New York. But, a lot can happen in two days.  Despite the family visiting, it is also Halloween and the opening of Marion’s big photography exhibit. Marion deals with the more complex issues of the self, the definition of the soul and the sacrifice of an artist. As we spiral into her world, relationship and family conflicts take a back seat to her own soul-searching adventure.

Often showcased in overlapping patterns and pockets, Rebecca Hofherr’s costume design gives Julie Delpy’s character frumpiness and almost-clownish innocence, in stark contrast to her sister, Rose’s, often barely-there attire. This conflict is reinforced by the childish banter seen between Marion and her antagonistic sister.

Chris Rock’s subdued Mingus is a logical next step as he evolves into the next stage of his career, establishing himself as a mature actor, able to be on the receiving end of other people’s humour rather than the main focus of attention.  That’s not to say that Chris Rock, as we’ve come to know and love him has disappeared entirely.  Mingus’ “Office”, an oversized closet realtors would refer to as a “flex-space”, provides the character with a sanctuary away from the pandemonium of the plot. Surrounding himself with an array of vintage radios and a cardboard cutout of Barack Obama, Mingus delves into his soul through a variety of one-sided discussions with the 2D president. A separation is created between Mingus’ super-text and subtext through a division of space, the radio show and his home office, respectively. Mingus’ need to use Marion’s family in his radio talk show brings an overt parallel between the two artists’ attempt to sell bits of themselves for the sake of their work.

Quick cuts, intimate shots and a playful use of time and perception add a sense of planned anarchy to this already whirlwind of a film. Delpy engages the audience visually, aurally and emotionally.  You have to be smart and attentive to keep up. With little time to form an opinion on the situations being presents, the audience is quickly swept from one complicated scenario to the next as the pace quickens and spirals.

As the film comes to a close and resolutions are cast, the audience, along with Marion is given a chance to breathe.  Karma will take care of the rest, we are told; as the denouement allows us time to reflect on our own anxieties in life, the little treasures they may hold and the past two days in New York.