Must-See Movie Review: 'The Daytrippers' (1996)

A good movie entertains you. A great movie challenges you. A phenomenal movie makes you forget you’re watching one. A movie that accomplishes all of those feats is a must-see.

“The Daytrippers” captures the genuine comedy that springs from the antics of a family. The adventure of the film begins when the eldest daughter, Eliza (Hope Davis), finds a love letter amongst her husband, Louis’ (Stanley Tucci) things.

After divulging the finding to her family, her mother Rita (Anne Meara) decides it is time to pile the family into the station wagon and get to the bottom of what’s going on. Along for the ride are Eliza’s rebellious sister Jo (Parker Posey), their devoted father Jim (Pat McNamara) and Jo’s boyfriend Carl (Liev Schreiber).

The road trip aspect of this movie is pulled off with spectacular results, sufficiently playing the beats of awkward conversation. Spearheading the chatter is the intellectual Carl, who regales the family with, among other things, the tale of his unpublished novel. There-in-lies an interesting character dynamic that stems from the diverse personalities trapped in the car together. 

Rita is a woman who’s spent her life as a wife and mother. Though content, she seemingly yearns for the opportunity to broaden her educational horizons and she finds a source to do so, by engaging her daughter’s cosmopolitan boyfriend.

Not wanting to be seen as a "commoner" in his eyes, she constantly flatters him, in a bid for his acceptance. The thing is; that he doesn’t look down on her. He seems to equally enjoy sharing his knowledge and philosophies, a sentiment that brings tension into his relationship with Jo.

This is a multi-faceted comedy, honest, frank and full of heart. It is trademark mumblecore, the essence of independent filmmaking. Where the characters take center stage and their stories are organically delved into.

Led by a scene stealing performance by Anne Meara ("Awakenings"), she embodies the eccentric mother to perfection. Rita is bigger than life, quirky to the extreme, and Meara sells it by grounding her in a sentimental reality.

Liev Schreiber ("Ray Donovan"), whose career has mainly consisted of brilliant dramatic work, excels in this comedic role. In his pitch-perfect turn as the scholarly Carl, he imbues him with loads of heart and intelligence that never seems cocky.

Hope Davis ("About Schmidt") and Parker Posey (upcoming "Grace of Monaco") are spot on as the strange brood. Davis plays the devotion of a wife willing to give her husband the benefit of the doubt with sincerity and Posey brings her idiosyncratic charm as the younger sibling desperate for attention. Pat McNamara ("Fight Club") is highly effective as the frustrated patriarch of the dysfunctional bunch.

Greg Mottola ("Superbad") writes and directs “The Daytrippers” with an easy charm that gives the film luster, falling into the pleasant balance of realism and ridiculousness. It has a sharp script that stays on the comedic moments for the appropriate time and let’s other moments that are best left understated, simmer instead. “The Daytrippers” knows it’s good and that’s what makes it great. Rating: 8.8/10

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