Last year saw a number of American indie directorial debuts (like Swingers, Trees Lounge and Palookaville) which ex-posed the paucity of most of Hollywood's bigger-budget output. Greg Mottola's The Daytrippers, shot on a minuscule budget in the space of a mere 16 days, is a dysfunctional family comedy which, thankfully, continues that honourable tradition.
Unfolding during the course of 24 hours, this deliberately claustrophobic film could easily be described as an anti-road movie. Mottola squeezes his five main characters into one car, sets them on the Long Island expressway and then charts the emotional disintegration of this particular nuclear family.
Crucial to the film's success as both a comedy and a drama are the series of unusual encounters with various big-city dwellers along the way, who include a bizarre father-son pairing, two squabbling elderly sisters, and a flirtatious guest at a book launch (played by Campbell Scott).
However, it is perhaps the universality of the theme in The Daytrippers which explains why it has played to acclaim at festivals around the world since it was first released a couple of years back. It deals with characters who chatter incessantly, but who are unable to communicate meaningfully, and explores how difficult it is to be emotionally honest to our partners and relatives.
There's nothing remarkable about the way the film is put together or indeed the way it's realised on screen. Mottola simply tells his story economically (the running time is a shade under 90 minutes) and focuses entirely on drawing some terrific performances from his considerably talented ensemble cast.
With the mood of the film becoming increasingly dark, he throws in an ending that is daring in its ambiguity and lack of closure. On the evidence of The Daytrippers, Mottola is clearly a writer/director to look out for.
Another low-budget gem from the US indie sector, this film delivers genuine laughs and some painful home-truths. Acerbically written and wonderfully acted, this is the perfect antidote to disappointing summer blockbusterage.