Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Daytrippers (1996)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - One station wagon. Two generations. Three couples. Four relationships.

She thought she was happily married -- until she found the note. Now Mom says there's only one thing to do…

Hope Davis stars with Stanley Tucci and a hip ensemble cast featuring Anne Meara and Parker Posey in this no-potholes-barred road comedy about a dysfunctional Long Island family searching Manhattan for romantic truth. But the truth will surprise everyone as this scavenger hunt for the heart unfolds to its unexpected conclusion. "Smart and charmingly neurotic. The Daytrippers reinvents an American classic." -Dwight Carner, Harper's Bazaar

Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Hope Davis, Pat McNamara, Anne Meara, Parker Posey, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Campbell Scott, Marsha Gay Harden
Academy Awards: None
Box Office: Opening Weekend: $44.93 thousand. Gross: $2.08 million.
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Surround; subtitles English, Spanish, French; closed-captioned; single side - single layer; 28 chapters; rated R; 87 min.; $24.95; street date 6/20/00.
Supplements: Theatrical Trailer; Talent Files.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: C/C-/D

The Daytrippers is what we call a "character" film. Although it does feature a loose plot, the movie mainly exists to depict the interactions of the family featured here; all other aims are little more than vague constructs designed to put these participants into various situations of interest.

Are those situations of any interest? Yeah, some of the time. The Daytrippers is one of those movies that seems to aspire to a grandeur it can't achieve. What should have been nothing more than a small and light comedy tries too hard to become more serious and "relevant", which harpoons it in the end. Nonetheless, much of the film is fairly entertaining when it sticks to what it does best.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Eliza (Hope Davis) discovers that her husband Louis (Stanley Tucci) may be cheating on her. She discusses this with her family in Long Island, who decide they should immediately head into Manhattan to straighten out the situation. Throughout the day, they look for Louis and encounter a variety of comic situations and folks on their search for the truth.

The Daytrippers clearly hopes to wring much of its humor from the wacky characters. Actually, "wacky" is a stretch, but the personas largely seem slightly extreme and lean toward comic exaggeration. There's Eliza's semi-bohemian kid sister Jo (Parker Posey), their parents, screechy and nagging Rita (Anne Meara) and quiet, hen-pecked Jim (Pat McNamara), plus Jo's pretentious and brown-nosing boyfriend Carl (Liev Schreiber). Much of the film depicts their interactions, but to little useful effect for the most part. Schreiber does a nice job with Carl, as he makes him both insufferable and likable at the same time; one scene in which he gets stuck behind the guest of honor at a book party provides Schreiber with some nice comedic moments.

But the rest of the cast has little to do with their roles. Both Davis and Posey are certainly attractive women, but Eliza's a dull, lifeless character who wanders through the film semi-comatose, while Jo should be a sparkplug she instead comes off like a poseur. Rita and Jim create a very stereotypical middle-aged couple, and Meara's shrill performance got on my nerves; we've all ridden that train a few too many times. Tucci is an able actor, but we see little of him here.

The entire film builds to the inevitable conclusion in which we learn the truth about Louis' possible affair, but even the "shocking" ending seems forced and artificial. The film was moderately compelling when it stuck to the light side, but when it tries to get serious, it loses focus. Writer/director Greg Mottola seems to want to make his "big statement" about relationships - both sexual and familial - but falters when he steps to the plate.

Most of The Daytrippers offers a mildly enjoyable ride. The story lacks coherence, but enough of interest occurs along the way to keep you with it. I didn't like the ending, but the overall film works acceptably well.

The DVD:

The Daytrippers appears in a fullscreen aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although very watchable and frequently quite attractive, the picture presents enough flaws to knock it down to nothing higher than the "average" level.

The problems start with the aspect ratio. From what I understand, The Daytrippers was an inexpensively made independent picture that was shot on 16mm film. It was apparently shown in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio theatrically, but the DVD goes with a fullframe look. For a lot of 16mm movies, this wouldn't be a problem, as the DVD should depict the entire image as shot; many 16mm films expose the enter 1.33:1 frame and are then matted for theatrical showings.

That doesn't appear to be the case with The Daytrippers. A few shots seem appropriately composed, but many look cramped and awkward. Information is consistently chopped from the sides of the frame, and we even witness at least one extremely awkward pan; check out the scene at 46:39 to discover a rapid and cheesy camera move that doesn't look like it was there in the original film. Why do we get a pan and scan transfer for this movie? I have no idea, but the poorly recomposed frame loses points right off the bat.

Once we get beyond that unfortunate fact, the picture seems good but has some problems. Sharpness looks consistently crisp and detailed, although edge enhancement rears its ugly head at times; I noticed moderate levels of moiré effects and jagged edges throughout the movie. The print itself displays mild grain during most of the film, and I also witnessed occasional speckles and a scratch or two; the print should look better for a recent film, but given the project's low budget origins, I won't complain too loudly.

Colors mostly seem very accurate and distinguished, with some bold and bright hues on display. Only one major exception occurs: fleshtones. With few exceptions, everyone in this movie looks overly pink and muddled. Black levels tend to seem fairly deep and rich, and shadow detail appears acceptably veiled without too many shots that are heavy or thick. The Daytrippers generally looks pretty good, but I remain disappointed by the pan and scan transfer and some other problems seen on this DVD.

Even worse is the lackluster and bland Dolby Surround soundtrack. For all intents and purposes, this audio is really monaural. The only time I noticed activity from locations other than center occurred when music played; the songs spread nicely to the front right and left channels. If any surround usage happened, I couldn't detect it; 90 percent of this film's audio comes from the center speaker.

The soundtrack's lack of ambition would be more forgivable if the audio sounded better, but it seems weak. Much of the dialogue was dubbed, and often dubbed poorly, which is a serious problem for a speech-intensive film like The Daytrippers. The variations in quality between the different sources of the recordings often seems painfully evident and they cause a definite distraction. Dialogue remains intelligible throughout the movie but can be reedy and flat.

Effects are a minor consideration in this chatty movie, but they also appear undistinguished and hollow. Only the film's music redeems the soundtrack to any degree. The songs come across as adequately bright and vivid, and they even display some moderate bass at times. Honestly, the tunes don't sound all that great, but in comparison with the remainder of the track, they seem excellent. Only the relatively positive quality of the music combined with a consideration of the low-budget nature of the project kept The Daytrippers from "D" territory, and just barely; regard my rating of the audio as a very borderline "C-".

The final blow on this weak DVD comes from the nearly-nonexistent supplemental features. The Daytrippers features some extremely rudimentary and nearly useless "Talent Files" which offer brief biographies of director Greg Mottola plus actors Davis, Posey, Schreiber and Tucci. In addition, we discover a "bonus trailer" for Big Night, which also featured Tucci and Schreiber. There's no booklet in the case - unlike most other DVDs from Columbia-Tristar (CTS) - and we don't even get a trailer for The Daytrippers itself; the DVD case mentions "Production Notes" but these fail to appear. All in all, it's a weak package.

Ultimately this is a surprisingly poor release from the folks at CTS, who usually do a very nice job with their DVDs. The Daytrippers itself offers a mildly entertaining little piece that doesn't do a lot to entertain but makes for a fairly enjoyable experience. However, the picture and sound quality on the DVD are quite lackluster, and the extras are completely negligible. A solid DVD release might have pushed my recommendation to the positive range, but as it stands, the most I can do is indicate that it might be worth a rental; anything beyond that seems undeserved for a pretty mediocre movie and a relatively poor DVD.

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