[Metroactive Movies]

[ Movies Index | Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

Generous Despair

The Daytrippers
Breakfast Summit: Anne Meara (left), Liev Schreiber and Parker Posey mull over the marital problems of family member Eliza in "The Daytrippers."

Greg Mottola's 'Daytrippers' sets New York bodies in motion

By Richard von Busack

THE LOW-BUDGET The Daytrippers, written and directed by Greg Mottola, is a small, haunting movie about family values in which levity and hopelessness are mixed together. The members of the Malone family aren't Neil Simon­style gagsters. They're all so far off in their own little worlds that when they collide, it's more like a sideswiping.

The Daytrippers is comedy glazed with loneliness, kept poignant by the chilly weather and sparse Rio cocktail music on the soundtrack. The comic squabbling of the Malone family yields to a long passage in which a wife (Hope Davis' Eliza) is suddenly cut adrift as she stands on a sidewalk under yellow streetlights, trying to figure out what to do next.

Some 16 hours earlier, after sending her husband, Louis (Stanley Tucci), to work in the city, Eliza was tidying up her Long Island home. She found a letter to her husband. The letter quoted a passage from 17th-century poet Andrew Marvel's "The Definition of Love" with its lines about a hopeless romance: "Begotten by Despair/ Upon Impossibility." Louis and Eliza's marriage had seemed perfect.

Unsure of what to do, Eliza takes the letter to her family. Her mother, Rita Malone (Anne Meara), decides to haul Eliza along on a previously scheduled station-wagon trip to New York with Eliza's father, her sister, Jo, and her sister's boyfriend, Carl.

When Eliza and the ensemble arrive, Louis isn't in at his desk in the publishing house where he works, having taken the day off. However, he will probably be attending a book-release party that night. The Malones head into the streets to search for him, caroming off various other strangers.

The Daytrippers is stimulated by a few celebrity cameos. Campbell Scott shows up as a novelist who's successful, attractive and kind of a bastard. Marcia Gay Harden has a small part as a publicist who can't get it into her head that a man she loves dumped her months ago.

If Mottola's vision of the city resembles that of any previous film, it's Martin Scorsese's After Hours. But After Hours was a robust comedy, and this is something much more pale--if every bit as interesting. The little humiliations the Malones endure aren't anything as fantastic as what happens to the besieged single guy Griffin Dunne played in After Hours. Still, they're always taking little nicks at each other, and mom's surface niceness starts to grow fissures.


Director Greg Mottola talks to Metroactive about
making it big on $30,000.

Another online interview with director Greg Mottola.


MEARA, of the comedy team of Stiller and Meara, has a distinctive face, made for sarcasm. Her face reminds me of that Angela Carter line about how a cat always smiles because of physiognomy, not because it particularly feels like smiling.

Her husband (Pat McNamara) is worn down to a draft-horse's imperturbability after years of marriage to Mrs. Malone, who is so urgently pleasant that you get a good idea of what happens to people who cross her.

Their other daughter, Jo (Parker Posey), has learned to react only to her mother's most direct passive aggressivities. The last of the passengers is Carl (Liev Schreiber), Jo's boyfriend. Carl is a failed novelist in training, given to describing the plot of his novel in progress (a disastrous Tama Janowitz­style social satire about a man born with a dog's head). Carl isn't just a one-joke egghead: the stripping of his naive pretenses entails some pain, just as it does in real life.

The Daytrippers appears at first to be a writer's movie--the kind in which the very grainy visuals, blown up from 16mm, are secondary. And then director Mottola comes up with an impressive shot like one of midnight-blue skyscrapers looming up through the window of the station wagon. Though a good deal of the film takes place inside a car, Mottola doesn't use hand-held camera until the very end--to suggest Eliza's sudden weightlessness on a street corner.

The danger in Mottola's New York isn't of being knocked over the head or stabbed; the danger is in being snubbed by somebody you respected, bypassed by someone more successful than you or casually betrayed by someone you loved.

The Daytrippers is an episodic picture, and it doesn't all fit together. Still, with the control of mood you'd expect only from a much older filmmaker, Mottola makes his feature debut look spontaneous and fresh instead of thrown together--a puzzle that's all the more handsome for a few missing pieces.

The Daytrippers (Unrated; 87 min.), directed and written by Greg Mottola, photographed by John Inwood and starring Anne Meara, Hope Davis and Stanley Tucci.

[ Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the April 3-9, 1997 issue of Metro

This page was designed and created by the Boulevards team.
Copyright © 1997 Metro Publishing, Inc.