Marcia Gay Harden
1 Hr., 27 Mins.
May 11, 2020
s Eliza (Hope Davis) being cheated on? In The Daytrippers (1996), a great quasi-road comedy movie from Greg Mottola, the question, posed at the beginning of the film, will be answered at the end of a long, messy day. (The 87-minute-long movie covers about 24 hours.) As the film opens, Eliza, a soft-spoken fourth-grade teacher, discovers what appears to be a romantic letter in her house written by her book-editor husband, Louis
(Stanley Tucci). She immediately takes the epistle over for a second opinion to her parents’ nearby home, which is also lived in by her younger, acerbic sister Jo (Parker Posey) and Jo's stuck-up, literary-minded boyfriend Carl (Liev Schreiber). It’s immediately decided by loud and pushy matriarch Rita (Anne Meara) that the clan is going to pack into the family station wagon and confront Louis with their suspicions at his chichi New York City office.
While Eliza provides the emotional foundation, and narrative push, of The Daytrippers, both are treated like conduits for Mottola’s broader intentions: to make the kind of dialogue-first movie where mundane situations are almost beside the point because the conversations that fuel them are interesting enough. The movie concerns itself more with the interpersonal relationships within this dysfunctional crew and the metropolitan misadventures which pop up before the climactic confirmation of what Louis is really doing.
Meara, giving a brassy, instantly indelible performance, dominates. Her Rita has since forever been calling the shots — bulldozing to her by now is no longer intentional — and in the film do we see the long-suffered behavior reach its limits. “What do you want?” quiet patriarch Jim, played by Pat McNamara, finally asks Eliza at the end of the feature. (This comes to us almost as a plot twist.) The relationship between Carl, a contrarian wannabe literary titan who thinks aristocracy is preferable to democracy, and Jo, who seems eternally annoyed, will probably not last much beyond the film’s closer. It’s amusing, mainly thanks to Posey’s heavily eye-roll-seasoned performance, to watch the latter look increasingly bewildered at the faux-deep shit Carl’s always spewing.
Most of The Daytrippers is taken up by little missions that pass the time before the final confrontation: a stakeout, the crashings of a couple of parties, the exchange of a TV set, more. The funniest is one where Rita passes out on a city sidewalk after she attempts to chase a car holding Louis and his apparent other woman. The family essentially invites itself, in the name of a rescue, into the apartment of a mild-mannered 20-something who lives right there. The latter is spending the day with his father. He reveals, during a short grocery-shopping trip accompanied by Eliza a few moments later, that he is burdened with a
problematic familial dynamic, too.
It didn’t matter to me by the end of the film if these characters were that likable or fun to be around. What makes the movie work is Mottola’s perceptive picking apart of them and their bonds, and how he steeps the sometimes sitcom-broad situations in plausibility. I had a good time watching The Daytrippers not because I myself wanted to hang out with these people — though Jo seems fun — but because they were fascinating, and because some of their dysfunctions
had a comforting familiarity to them. The film lives up to the long-tired but still a lot of the time true idea that with specificity comes a feeling of universality. A-