Cinépix Film Properties

The Daytrippers (1996, Greg Mottola)

There are two profoundly well-directed scenes in the third act of The Daytrippers, including the last one, so you really want to give what you can of it a pass. Daytrippers is very straightforward, even through the various complexities of the third act, but just because Mottola (who wrote as well as directed) knows what he needs to do with the characters at a given point in the story doesn’t mean he knows how to do it with them. The film spends most of its runtime promising to give Anne Meara and Pat McNamara these great roles but instead reduces them both to caricature. Sure, not the initially implied caricatures—she’s an overbearing Long Island housewife and he’s the hen-pecked husband—but changing from one caricature to another isn’t character development. Because Mottola asks for a lot of leeway on Meara, who’s shown as terrible person throughout and one not even deserving of empathy, implying along the way any woman over a certain age are raving harpies, only to make her even worse than predicted.

It’s a lot.

And then Mottola’s done with her because she’s just a distraction. She’s been distracting the film from Hope Davis, the ostensible lead, for the previous seventy minutes or so and then all of a sudden it’s like… oh, yeah, she’s just MacGuffin. Because we couldn’t get Stanley Tucci for anything but a supporting role. Tucci is Davis’s husband. The film opens with them coming home from Thanksgiving and having an intimate moment. The next day, Tucci goes off to work in the city and Davis discovers what appears to be a love letter on the floor. Presumably fell out of his briefcase. So she heads over to mom Meara’s, where we’ve already met the rest of the cast. We get introduced to Meara and McNamara as they make as much noise as possible to wake other daughter Parker Posey, who’s home from college for the holiday with boyfriend Liev Schreiber. Posey and Schreiber are going into the city and waiting for McNamara to give them a ride to the train.

But then Davis arrives with her problems and, counseling against her calling Tucci, Meara decides McNamara is going to drive everyone into the city. Hence The Daytrippers.

The family has various misadventures getting into the city, their journey set to Schreiber summarizing his novel to the mostly disinterested audience. Watching Posey and Schreiber’s relationship slowly implode over the film as the pressure in the car keeps on ratcheting up is one of Daytrippers’s most deliberate and least successful subplots. Eventually Posey meets author Campbell Scott—Tucci’s a literary agent or something—and he’s everything Schreiber wishes he could be—published, self-confident, smarter. The scene where Scott takes Schreiber’s insipid political philosophy out back and beats it with a stick until it crumbles is something else. The Daytrippers always feels very indie, with John Inwood’s realistic (and gorgeous) photography, Richard Martinez’s score, Mottola’s long takes… but the story’s basically a sitcom episode and a lot of the characterizations are similarly shallow. Even Meara’s performance works more appropriately in that context.

Only Mottola is very clearly not directing a sitcom. He directs against the script, which somehow works, but the script’s still got its problems. And then there’s Schreiber, who’s too tall to be puppy dog and a little bit too absurd. Six foot three, Cambridge-educated, mama’s boy fops who work construction in Michigan require a lot of… something. And neither Mottola or Schreiber know how to do that something.

Davis gets very little to do in the first half of the film—see, they can’t find Tucci so they have to traverse the city through the runtime with the aforementioned adventures, which are have limited budgets and often involve parties or at least social gatherings with food and alcohol present—but then she gets a bunch in the third act. Only not a lot of dialogue, just a lot of long takes of Davis thinking. She’s awesome at them and you wish Mottola had been doing them the whole time because they add up while the stuff he had been focusing on did not.

McNamara’s okay. I was expecting more from him, but he’s solid. Posey’s good. Not a great part overall (which is a big problem), but she’s good. Tucci’s great. Great cameo from Marcia Gay Harden.

The Daytrippers is a well-made picture, with a few moments of inspired brilliance. In the end those moments just make you wish Mottola had figured out how to do them sooner. And more frequently.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Greg Mottola; director of photography, John Inwood; edited by Anne McCabe; music by Richard Martinez; production designer, Bonnie J. Brinkley; costume designer, Barbara Presar; produced by Nancy Tenenbaum and Steven Soderbergh; released by Cinépix Film Properties.

Starring Hope Davis (Eliza Malone D’Amico), Parker Posey (Jo Malone), Liev Schreiber (Carl Petrovic), Anne Meara (Rita Malone), Pat McNamara (Jim Malone), Campbell Scott (Eddie Masler), Andy Brown (Ronnie), Paul Herman (Leon), Marcia Gay Harden (Libby), Marc Grapey (Aaron), Douglas McGrath (Chap), and Stanley Tucci (Louis D’Amico).


Angel Baby (1995, Michael Rymer)

Regardless of quality, Angel Baby will always have a special nostalgia for me. Years ago I was admonishing a friend for not watching foreign films and he challenged me, asking for an example of a recent, excellent foreign film. I gave him Angel Baby. I think it was a few days later he came back and complained Angel Baby, an Australian film, wasn’t really a foreign film. Having just watched it again (as I prepare to retire my laserdiscs), I think will go out and say Australian films are not American films. They are foreign films. Maybe not all of them, probably not most of them, but certainly Angel Baby.

Whenever there’s a Hollywood movie about the mentally ill or handicapped, it tends to fail. These films aren’t necessarily complete failures, but they always somewhat fail. The first major problem with these endeavors is their attempt to make the mental illness or handicap an avenue for (somewhat respectful) comedy. We, the presumably mentally fit audience, are expected to laugh at the characters. We might think they’re cute, but they’re still funny. The characters immediately are not treated with respect. Angel Baby never lets the audience laugh after the opening credits, doesn’t even let them crack a smile, at these characters. It does let the audience sympathize with the “fit” characters, but it never lets the mentally ill characters become pitiable. Never even approaches it.

The second major difference is in the conclusion. Most of these films promise a bright future. The film being the story of reaching the bright future. Except the bright future is tacked, so the film isn’t really that journey, but that’s not the point. Angel Baby doesn’t pander in that way. It tells its story and it tells it beautifully. Michael Rymer is still around (after years of Hollywood dreck), he’s directing “Battlestar Galactica” and co-writing a few of the episodes too. That work, however, good, doesn’t compare to Angel Baby. Angel Baby is perfectly directed, beautifully written, beautifully acted. Jacqueline McKenzie was so good in it, I almost saw Deep Blue Sea. She’s still making interesting films, however, you just have to get them from Australia. John Lynch is sort of around, but not in anything I’d see. Of the two, I suppose Lynch is best.

Angel Baby is not out on DVD in the US (I think Paramount’s got the rights, so it’ll probably never happen) and the Australian disc is hard to find and appears to be pan and scan.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michael Rymer; director of photography, Ellery Ryan; edited by Danny Cooper; music by Chris Gough; production designer, Chris Kennedy; produced by Timothy White and Jonathan Shteinman; released by Cinepix Film Properties.

Starring John Lynch (Harry), Jacqueline McKenzie (Kate), Colin Friels (Morris) and Deborra-Lee Furness (Louise).


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