The World Film Festival continued with the same momentum on its third day it built up by Day 2’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. The day began with the Japanese drama Norwegian Wood, continued with the dysfunctional-family comedy 2 Days in New York, and wrapped up with the British lark Hysteria. Much like yesterday, the first sunk, while the second and third soared.
Norwegian Wood is adapted from an acclaimed Japanese novel about love, loss, and heartbreak. Unfortunately, a plot that may have worked in literary form does not seem to translate in this dull, bloated adaptation.
Characters come off as too serious and/or ponderous, even in scenes where the tone wants to be lighter. It carries on long, long after multiple logical places to end the tale of Toru (Ken’ichi Matsuyama) and his constant vacillation between the meek and psychologically crippled Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) and the effervescent and hopeful Midori (Kiko Mizuhara).
Most unfortunate of all is simply that the movie is so plodding, for what had the potential to be a truly emotionally affecting movie. There is a fine line between tranquil and slow, between serene and dull; Norwegian Wood steps over it early on and never finds it way back.
2 DAYS IN NEW YORK
2 Days in New York is a sequel to writer-director-star Julie Delpy’s earlier 2 Days in Paris. Marvellously, the new film requires zero knowledge of the original film – in fact, it may even help – and stands incredibly tall on its own merits alone.
Delpy plays Marion, a French-American artist living in New York with her new boyfriend, Mingus (a never-been-better and rarely-been-funnier Chris Rock). With an art exhibit coming up, Marion’s French family flies over to meet Mingus, see Marion’s exhibit, and just generally mess up Marion’s life in a way that only embarrassing family members in movies can.
What could have been a routine fish-out-of-water/culture-clash comedy, though, crackles with levity and freshness, as well as perfectly executed mini-farces. While much of the comedy is mined from the same boorish characters and clichéd situations in countless other films before it, 2 Days in New York managed to make it seem brand new.
Special mention is truly warranted for Chris Rock, who is revelatory as the seemingly only sane one is his entire flat of French people of various degrees of craziness. The script is also incredibly sharp, mining familiar territory for fresh laughs and distracting from the story’s unoriginality with ingeniously scripted jokes and wonderfully delivered comedy. If Woody Allen made a fish-out-of-water comedy of manners in the mid-‘80s, it would’ve been pretty close to 2 Days in New York.
Hysteria, looking very dry and reserved from trailers and synopses, ended up being a hilarious delight in same wry tone as Shakespeare in Love or The Full Monty.
Detailing the chain of events that led to the creation of the vibrator, Hysteria casts Hugh Dancy as the charming Dr. Mortimer Granville, a progressive doctor in the late 19th century bouncing from one dismissal to another after his “radical” views on things like germs keep him cyclically looking for work.
He’s hired by Dr. Dalrymple (the reliable Jonathan Pryce) to assist in Dalrymple’s work treating women suffering from hysteria, in a time when men didn’t admit or understand that the symptoms of hysteria would simply indicative of unsatisfied women. Dalrymple’s treatment for hysteria consists of a rather… “hands-on” approach to quenching their ravenous impulses.
Granville’s friend, Edmund (the absolutely side-splitting Rupert Everett), is an early adopter of technologies like the telephone and the electric generator. When he and Granville put their heads together one day to solve the problem of Granville’s constant hand cramps, the results are electric.
British period comedies are all-too-often stiff and dry. Hysteria masterfully avoids such traps of tone, playing lightly with the characters and situations and never taking itself too seriously. The result is a riot wrapped in corsets and one of the most surprising comedies of the year.
Day 4 will include screenings of Your Sister’s Sister, Where Do We Go Now?, Farewell, My Queen, and Moonrise Kingdom.