1996, NR, 87 min. Directed by Greg Mottola. Starring Hope Davis, Pat Mcnamara, Anne Meara, Parker Posey, Liev Schreiber, Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci, Marcia Gay Harden.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 25, 1997
Writer-director Greg Mottola's first feature is a deceptively quiet and funny film that sticks in your memory long after you think you've left the theatre. The unassuming comedy is an observantly written and wonderfully performed piece that gets inside family life and finds the little moments of universal recognizability. You may have your doubts as you're watching the film because it can seem so slight, so unrevealing, so loopy and aimless. By the time The Daytrippers reaches its inconclusive conclusion (which contains a hook that many may see coming), you might wonder where the time has gone and what you've received in return. True, the film has no big cathartic payoffs, bravura turns, dazzling camera play, or whopping belly laughs. But The Daytrippers is an excursion that will not be forgotten, almost as much as for what is not said by these characters as for what is. The plot is a mere excuse for the Malone family from Long island to spend the day after Thanksgiving cooped up together in the family station wagon tooling around Manhattan. It gives everyone a chance to interact -- or not. When Eliza D'Amico (Davis) finds a mysterious love note in her husband's trousers (with whom she had mad passionate love only the night before), she immediately brings it over to her parents' house for examination. Her overbearing mother Rita (Meara) insists they go into the city and confront him; Eliza's taciturn father Jim (McNamara) offers to drive; Eliza's home-for-the-holidays sister Jo (Posey) and her boyfriend Carl (Schreiber) come along for the ride. This instant family affair becomes a wild goose chase as the clan goes from location to location looking for Eliza's elusive husband Louis (Tucci), who, inexplicably, is not at work. Their meandering creates an episodic structure as these station-wagon warriors pause for interludes which seem to have little to do with advancing the story. And as they lurch along their quest, they bicker and stew, and listen to Carl's ongoing narration of the pretentious novel he's writing (about a man with the head of a pointer dog -- the better to point things out). The most memorable moments may be those that seem most throwaway: Parker Posey's droll delivery as she stands over her mother passed out on the New York City streets while ineffectually reciting, “Don't go into the light, Ma”; the initial smile that passes over Eliza's face when she finally spots her wayward but happy husband dancing in the moonlight; two sisters sitting on a park bench discussing contraceptive methods; Marcia Gay Harden's riveting cameo turn as a drunk party guest; or Jim's sudden but well-timed and revelatory outburst. Some are bound to have trouble with Meara's loud bossiness but it's her character who allows the others to show such remarkable restraint in the lovely ensemble piece. Mottola's observation of family life is most keen, but his objective is not to skewer the Malones. He likes these people too much for that. And, after all, there's a certain comfort to cruising in the station wagon with your posse.