Partly inspired by Hudson Mohawke’s Valentine’s Slowjamz VIII, partly inspired by Matt Singer’s recommendations over at Screencrush, I decided to watch a couple of romance movies for Valentine’s Day.

Julie Delphy as Marion and Chris Rock as Mingus play a re-married interracial multicultural couple, each bringing their own kid, somehow living in harmony in New York, until Marion’s French father, Jeannot, and sister, Rose, pay a visit with her sister’s boyfriend (Marion’s past lover), Manu, in tow.

If the conceit weren’t enough Rock’s character is named Mingus after the Jazz great Charles Mingus, which is awesome in its own right but becomes hilarious because of what it rhymes with. Delpy also wrote and directed 2 Days in New York (2012, on Netflix) and her choice of Jazz while touring the city in fast forward is a nice touch too. She also wisely chose to fill it with crude sexual humor and jabs at Black American and French cultural expectations and differences.

The movie gives Delpy plenty of opportunity to banter and wax poetic on art (Marion is a photographer), marriage, family, love, and relationships with Rock in the same vein as she does with Ethan Hawke in the
Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series (1995-2013), only without Richard Linklater’s lengthy takes and scenic touch.

Still, I have so much respect for attempts to write, direct, and star in one’s own project. Though the voiceover can add up to too much, Delpy succeeds in making a throughly manic and existential French relationship drama with American ideals as a backdrop, ending with a neat (albeit very convenient) bow on it all.

However, the inciting incident, like in Beginners, happens to be the death of Marion’s mother. Thus the family makes a trip to New York in an effort to get their father away from Paris for a while. Their mother isn’t mentioned much, but her death looms lightly over the family suggesting how the French deal with death (they don’t, really).

Delpy wrote, directed, and starred, but Rock’s comedic voice and cultural perspective is very present. As a black guy who likes French things, it’s rare to see a black guy dealing with French culture in any medium. It’s also rare to see a black guy with a good job (Mingus has his own radio show) and a nice family on screen, but that’s a topic for another day.

Side note: I need an Obama cutout to talk to when I give myself motivational speeches.

Most of the cross cultural humor comes at the expense of Marion’s family who are sort of drawn as cliches; an old smelly Frenchmen, and a young inconsiderate French couple in love and very okay with shopping around.

Delpy’s character on the other hand is that of a practical present day French-American woman and the random things that they find challenging. In one scene Marion has to call tech support but she can’t navigate the automated voice system because of her accent, then gets called rude by the representative for spelling her name out with scientific terms for various reproductive systems.

The funniest was when Manu walked into the apartment with headphones on and fucked up Mingus’ daughter’s neat and inside the lines drawing, suggesting what the French think of as art. Mingus’ family never quite grasps French ideals of romance and art, what’s proper in conversation, and how much they care about politics (translation: not much). Though, Mingus’ daughter is by far the most confused (rightfully and hilariously) by these strange French people. At dinner she wonders how, if they love each other, could they yell at each other so loudly and Mingus’ sister explains, “it’s just crazy love.”

That’s a good way to sum up the vibe of 2 Days in New York; it’s an honest depiction of modern love and sometimes love is just crazy like that.

Speaking of French girls, Mélanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds, 2009) as Anna is great playing a comparatively grounded lady friend to Ewen McGregor’s emotionally distant Oliver in Beginners (2011, on Netflix). Trainspotting (1996, on Netflix) will always be my favorite Ewan McGregor movie but this easily beats his Star Wars installments (1999-2005) and Black Hawk Down (2001, not saying much, I know).

This is a movie that aims straight for the feels and keeps hitting until you breakdown. If there was any doubt, they include the most well behaved emotionally attached small dog (a Jack Russell terrier named Arthur) that has a bit of telepathy, and insists on joining Oliver at a Halloween Party early in the movie. He goes as what appears to be an old man, but with the dog and the pipe he’s able to really get into his Sigmund Freud, and it just so happens Anna as a journalist flops down on his couch.

Oliver is coping with the death of his father, Hal, which causes him to flashback to the life and death of his mother, Georgia, after which is when his father revealed to Oliver that he’d always been gay.

It’s hard to pin down exactly how much time passes since the movie takes place concurrently in the present and recent past, with further flashbacks to Oliver’s upbringing. But for context cultural images from 2003 are juxtaposed against cultural images from when his mother and father met in the 50s, the LGBT movement in the 50s and 60s, as well as from he and Anna’s childhood in the 70s and 80s as she’s a generation younger than Oliver. All of these serve to highlight the difference in what life and love looked like back then with how we express ourselves now.

The flashbacks usually underscore how Oliver came to be the man he is through the mentally and emotionally absent actions of his parents. But sometimes the images help lighten what is a very emotional present because they show progress — be it for gay rights or how we interact and express ourselves to our loved ones in general. Yet everything Oliver does, even though he means well, is still hard because of his cynical stance on the inevitable loneliness more or less guaranteed to us all, whether we find love or not.

Though you know what’s coming in the end, when it comes it’s devastating. Christopher Plummer nearly steals the show with his evolution into an openly gay man who is openly fighting cancer. He won his first Academy Award at the age of 82 (the oldest winner) for Best Supporting Actor for the performance. At the time I remember thinking the homie Jonah Hill got robbed but no, Plummer is absolutely deserving.

The other great thing about Plummer’s performance, aside from playing a realistic cancer patient, was his practical gay male character as a whole, portraying a group often seen on screen as gay caricature. It seems Julie Delphy had the same goal of depicting a practical French woman alongside her caricature French family for comedic effect; here it adds to the weight of the movie, showing those with a different gender preference aren’t different in any other way.

Hal’s death spurs Oliver to make the best of things with Anna, just as his father made the best of his life despite finding love very late in the game. That doesn’t mean connecting fully with Anna is easy as she brings her own baggage to the table. Of course we all have baggage, and have to deal with unexpected often devastating things we probably would rather not confront, but it’s easier with a variety of companionship. While I was watching Beginners Chance the Rapper dropped a new track, “Lady Friend“, which kinda fits, and concludes a nice Valentine’s Day weekend.


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