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'Daytrippers' Flirts With a Family's Self-Absorption


All those might-be-apocryphal tales of modern life--about alligators in toilets and homicidal maniacs on the upstairs telephone--are popular because they're true, at least in what they say about our deep-seated fears. What those fears say, of course, can be even scarier than the stories themselves.

Which isn't to say that Greg Mottola's "The Daytrippers" is a horror movie--unless the idea of finding a love note to your husband on your bedroom floor and then spending the day scouring Manhattan for him with your parents, sister and sister's boyfriend is your idea of horror. But it does resolve in a way that's as Freudian as the aforementioned alligator, with a similar kind of bite.

Smartly nuanced and darkly comedic, "The Daytrippers" takes place on the day after Thanksgiving--as anticlimactic as any on the calendar and one ripe with potential indigestion. Such is the fate of Eliza (Hope Davis), a woman happily in love with her publishing agent husband, Louis (Stanley Tucci), living with him somewhere in the cozy confines of Huntington, L.I. (there's a cameo by the Walt Whitman Mall), and who starts the day by finding that note.

First problem: She takes the letter--complete with 17th century love poetry and expressions of undying romance--to her mother, Rita (Anne Meara), who is, as they say, difficult. Second problem: Rita unilaterally orders a full-family assault on Manhattan to find Louis and straighten everything out. Then the real fun begins.

Mottola's Malone family is a fully realized creation, as familiar as your own phone number. Rita picks on her husband, Jim (Pat McNamara), out of habit; he ignores her, out of habit. Eliza's sister Jo (a nicely restrained Parker Posey), home from college with her boyfriend, Carl (Liev Schreiber), ignores both of them. Carl, whose erudition would be forgettable except for the company he's keeping, regales everyone with the plot of his novel, about a messianic figure with the head of a German short-haired pointer. Each is a hermetically sealed universe, bumping off the others with very little cross-pollination.

Eliza's the exception. While the others treat their expedition like some Agatha Christie-inspired cruise across uncharted waters (the East River), the sweetly distressed Eliza is faced with real questions--about Louis, about their life together. That her family is so oblivious to her pain is part of Mottola's wry commentary on the general self-absorption of the modern individual. But strictly in terms of this movie, it's the stuff of very subtle comedy.

Here and there, the film shows its seams. There are Cassevetian close-ups and an assumption about the profundity of the offbeat. But at the same time there's this double helix of dissatisfaction and new possibilities running through "The Daytrippers," mutating the dynamics of the characters, finding fault lines in their geography.

The city itself, an exotic locale for Rita and Jim, has an aphrodisiac effect on the younger set: Jo flirts with Eddie (Campbell Scott), one of Louis' authors; Eliza warms up to Ronnie (Andy Brown), whose apartment they invade when Rita has a fainting spell. Jim has a moment of manhood. And the always precise and balanced Tucci, of whom we see much too little here, has one moment as Louis that is so haunted and fearful that he might be looking at the abyss. Or, perhaps, his in-laws.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: profanity, adult situations.


'The Daytrippers'

Hope Davis: Eliza

Anne Meara: Rita

Liev Schreiber: Carl

Parker Posey: Jo

Stanley Tucci: Louis

Pat McNamara: Jim

Campbell Scott: Eddie

A Cineplex Film Properties release. Writer-director Greg Mottola. Producers Nancy Tenenbaum, Steven Soderbergh. Executive producers Lawrence S. Kamerman, David Heyman, Campbell Scott. Photography John Inwood. Editor Anne McCabe. Production design Bonnie J. Brinkley. Costumes Barbara Presar. Music Richard Martinez. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.

* At selected theaters.

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