Daytrippers, The (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Pity poor Eliza (Hope Davis). On the surface, her family seems normal. She lives with her husband, Luis (Stanley Tucci), in a nice, Long Island home only a short distance from her parents' house. Under that roof are her mom, Rita (Anne Meara), dad, Jim (Pat McNamara), sister, Jo (Parker Posey), and her sister's SO, Carl (Liev Schreiber). When Eliza discovers incriminating evidence indicating that Luis could be cheating on her, she is bundled into the car by the rest of her family for a sleuthing day trip to New York City. By the time night falls, Eliza will probably wish she had stayed in bed.

The Daytrippers, from first time director Greg Mattola, starts out as a droll comedy about a group of oddball characters forced by circumstances to spend a day together, but finishes as a slightly overbearing drama about relationships in crisis. The change in tone from playful to somber, which takes place about three-quarters of the way through, is jarring. The melodrama that follows, while adequate to wrap up the story, isn't nearly as effective as the offbeat comedy that persists for most of the running length.

Leaving out the final act, which includes a lot of bickering, anger, and one "shocking" revelation, The Daytrippers satirizes a suburban family's trip into a big city. Of course, they're there on a mission -- to spy on Eliza's husband. They hang around outside the possible address of his mistress, waiting. When he finally appears and jumps in a cab, the chase is on. Unfortunately, a red light immediately intervenes, resulting in "the world's shortest car chase." Undaunted, however, Rita leaps out of the car to follow her son-in-law on foot, or, as Jo puts it, "My mom suddenly turns into Wesley Snipes."

Of course, it's not all fun and games. There are hidden tensions in the various relationships, many of which eventually spill into the open. The problem with The Daytrippers is that, once the drama shifts into high gear, Mattola forgets about the lighter side of things. More humor in the final twenty minutes would have made the climactic sequences fit better with the rest of the film.

The actors all do fine jobs. Hope Davis, who bears a striking resemblance to the better-known Julie Delpy, shows aptitude for both comedy and drama. Anne Meara, unsurprisingly, is much better at the former than the latter. Parker Posey (Party Girl) is delightful as the impish Jo, and Liev Schreiber is effective as her put-upon boyfriend. Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott have smaller roles.

The Daytrippers is at its best using parody to paint an incisively humorous picture of a modern American family. We see here just how dysfunctional the typical nuclear family can be, and that "family values" aren't always the solution. Even though The Daytrippers is played primarily for laughs, there's a lot of truth lurking beneath the comic exterior. The message comes across to anyone who wants to listen: preserving the family is about fostering communication, not mouthing platitudes. Unfortunately, that's something that the film makers understand far better than most politicians.

Daytrippers, The (United States, 1996)

Director: Greg Mattola
Cast: Hope Davis, Pat McNamara, Anne Meara, Parker Posey, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Campbell Scott, Marsha Gay Harden
Screenplay: Greg Mattola
Cinematography: John Inwood
U.S. Distributor: Cinepix Film Properties
Run Time: 1:28
U.S. Release Date: 1997-03-05
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Mature Themes)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1