The Daytrippers Review
In what is sure to be the shortest car chase yet filmed, the cast of The Daytrippers bundle into their station wagon on a New York street and follow a yellow taxi cab as it drives away. Having driven no more than fifty yards, the taxi drives through an amber light and the driver of the station wagon brakes to a halt as the light turns red. It is not helped that the station wagon is a rusty old motor with a heater that failed on a chilly November in New York. As these are not altogether shining examples of either a car nor a car chase, so they reflect the slightly broken family sitting shoulder-to-shoulder within, blunted by some shocking news that is unable to be verified as its subject disappears inside the taxi.
The Daytrippers opens with married couple Eliza (Hope Davis) and Louis (Stanley Tucci) driving home after a party and going to bed, tenderly telling of their love for each other. The next morning, Louis, who works at a publishers, says he will be staying over in the city as he is required at a party to launch a new novel and he leaves for work, whereupon Eliza finds a love poem written to her husband by someone called Sandy. Unsure if what she's found is simply something that her husband is working on or has a more devastating meaning, Eliza drives out to her parent's house on Long Island to discuss it with her family. In addition to her mother and father (Anne Meara and Pat McNamara playing Rita and Jim, respectively), Eliza's younger sister Jo (Parker Posey) is staying for Thanksgiving with her boyfriend, Carl (Liev Schreiber). With no one in her family able to help, it is Carl who identifies the source of the poem and its meaning - that as much as one person might love another and how that love might be a perfect love, it will never be acceptable.
Troubled by what this means, Eliza becomes determined to travel into the city to see her husband and with her family rallying around her and into Jim's station wagon, they leave Long Island to find out the truth behind this note.
Ostensibly about the close association that one has with our families even through the times when all other relationships look to be over, The Daytrippers is a sweet and gentle little film that essays a road trip into New York in which the participants barely leave their front step. As with most films in the road movie genre, what is less important is that the hero or heroine, in this case Eliza, conclude their journey by achieving their goal but that along the path they take, they learn something about themselves and their travelling companions. In this case and as much as Eliza discovers much that was unknown about her husband including a shocking revelation that ends the film, it is her bond with her sister that is her true discovery, finding that the differences that have kept both apart are only superficial. Where one kept the other at a distance, with Eliza believing that Jo's life was aimless and unsettled and Jo thinking that Eliza had married too quickly, both begin to see that it is what they have in common that holds them together as sisters.
As the trip unfolds and Eliza and Jo establish a closer connection between them, their separation from their mother, and between the reality of their lives and of her hopes for them, becomes increasingly obvious, even to the extent of Rita calling Jo an idiot as her relationship with Carl falls apart. Eventually, Rita's domination of their lives is too much to bear, even for her long-suffering husband who bears the brunt of much of her browbeating, to which he has little left to say but, "Shut up!"
In terms of why The Daytrippers is successful, it is this reflection of the major roles within a family constructed from years of intimate moments that rings true most often, with a succession of characters introduced to reinforce this point. From the father hiding at his son's apartment due to the non-payment of child support to his younger sons who are still living with their mother to the two middle-aged sisters bickering over the pills and medication left by their recently-deceased mother as they clean her apartment, The Daytrippers does a wonderful job of noting the complex yet everyday events that make up family life and to anyone who faces these events on a daily basis, the humour of the piece is in seeing one's own life reflected on the television.
In as much as the feelings between Jim, Rita, Eliza and Jo are honest and truthful, Jo and Carl's relationship is almost there for comedic value and belief will have to be suspended when watching the free-spirited Jo with her charming yet starched boyfriend. Still, having Liev Schreiber in the film is a joy as he explains the plot of the awful novel he has just completed, being the tale of a man born with the head of a dog...a Pointer to be exact who has his hands removed in the first chapter, which thus hinders his ability to point! The comparison between Carl explaining this story to an impressed Rita sits in stark conflict to the mention of his novel to a writer, Eddie (Campbell) who has had a number of books published and who charms Jo enough to have her consider leaving Carl to the immense displeasure of her mother.
Overall, the cast does very well with the underrated Parker Posey being the standout actress, both in her sassy dealings with Eddie and Carl and in the warmth between her and her father, played to good effect by Pat McNamara. Hope Davis also does well in managing to portray Eliza as a woman who knows her marriage is more than likely in tatters but who holds on tightly to a hope that she will discover her fears are unconfirmed.
As much as the individual roles are excellent, the writer/director lets two things slip that he ought to have paid more attention to. Firstly, he lets the script sag a little as it progresses, giving an unbalanced feel to the film. Where the first fifty minutes bristle with unfussy dialogue and situations that feel uncontrived, funny and smart, the final thirty minutes let the film down somewhat, tailing off into a disappointing ending that missteps wildly and which drops the humour in favour of earnest, well-meaning lecturing on relationships that previously, felt perfectly natural. The second flaw and the more damaging one, although this is a personal opinion, is that Mottola is a little too keen on trying to mimic the work of Hal Hartley, even down to the setting of the opening scenes on Long Island, Hartley's favourite location. In addition, Mottola's introduction of seemingly unrelated characters in chance meetings that, on reflection, serve to reinforce the point he's making is entirely reminiscent of Hartley's work in The Unbelievable Truth, Trust and Simple Men, notably the latter where Robert Burke's fleeing criminal discovers truths about himself and his family as he travels with his brother to Long Island to track down their father.
Finally, however, there are a number of remarkably beautiful scenes, notably in Louis and Eliza's drive home from the party, which captures the ease with which married couples can communicate without speaking but best and most poignant of all is a stunning view from Jim's driving seat of the New York night lit up by a few street lamps but mostly the World Trade Center, isolated in a dark yet vividly red sky.
The Daytrippers was filmed on Super 16 with an aspect ration of 1.85:1, which means that the film, as shown on this DVD in 1.33:1, has not being transferred in its original aspect ratio. What is infuriating about this, more so even that normal, is that Metrodome haven't even hidden this fact from the viewer by including 1.85:1 screenshots in the menu and scene selection screens.
Otherwise, the picture quality is obviously not quite as sharp had it been originally filmed on 35mm but is acceptable albeit with a small degree of blurring. There is, however, a lack of depth to the picture and an absence of the kind of sparkle we have come to expect from a commercial movie.
The Daytrippers has been transferred with its original stereo soundtrack intact given the information presented in the end credits, which sounds fine although very little has been done to clean it up resulting in a little hiss present in some of the quieter scenes.
There are no bonus features whatsoever in this release.
It is difficult to recommend The Daytrippers to everyone, being a film that will appeal to only a small number of people, particularly as it's a small, low-key release about the relationships within a middle-class family from Long Island - not a film to appeal to a large number of people. There is, however, enough here to ensure that fans of Hal Hartley will be interested if only to see a film that gets close to what he's capable of but falls ever so slightly short.
It's unlikely that The Daytrippers will be a life-changing film for everyone but for an amiable, funny and unpretentious little film about family relationships, it's not bad...not bad at all.