Irreconcilable Differences Movie Review
Over a decade after it vanished from the cable TV lazy weekend repertoire, the film is finally getting a DVD release -- fittingly, as part of a series called "The Lost Collection." After revisiting the movie, it sure is a far-fetched, silly trifle of a fairy tale, but it's still charming, and still believable in its own way. Irreconcilable Differences carries with it the same charisma that most Nancy Meyers-Charles Shyer comedies (Private Benjamin, Baby Boom, Father of the Bride) possess; these films are comfort food with a few sharp-edged nutrients added to the mix, stories about likable people who veer wildly off course but eventually find their way back to the Yellow Brick Road.
For the uninitiated, Irreconcilable Differences centers on a young girl attempting to divorce herself from her parents. It is, admirably, a pretty risky foundation for a 1984 movie. Of course, the thorny premise is leveled with ample cuteness and winking cheer throughout, but the film nevertheless retains a barbed sense of humor that shines through some of its softer elements.
Drew Barrymore plays the child seeking emancipation, and she is kind of perfect in this role, which requires her to be sweet and innocent but also cynical and world-weary. She is an adorable kid and that shines through, but she also seems to possess more weathered pessimism than she even has now as an adult actress. It is a wonderful performance.
Barrymore plays Casey Brodsky, daughter of once-acclaimed film director Albert (Ryan O'Neal) and current literary goddess Lucy (Shelley Long). The courtroom setting works as a frame for the story of Lucy and Albert's tumultuous relationship, which makes up the bulk of the film. In short, they meet on a whim, marry impulsively, and quickly enter a world that sabotages their passionate bond. Both Lucy and Albert carry their own set of passions and desires -- he is a film historian who desperately wants to direct, she is an amateur writer with way more talent than she realizes -- that eventually overwhelm their love for each other. Albert is a terrible screenwriter, but with Lucy's help, he pens a movie romance for the ages and becomes a superstar, while Lucy is left in the background. Soon he's wooing a young ingénue (Sharon Stone, in her acting debut) for a preposterous historical picture, and eventually the couple separates. It is passion that brings them together and passion that tears them apart.
But it doesn't stop there. Albert's movie becomes the grandest bomb in the history of the cinema, and Lucy channels her resentment into a novel that skyrockets to the top of the bestseller list. Soon their fortunes have swapped, which basically keeps them in the same selfish positions, only reversed. They are still focused only on their own desires, while neglecting their daughter's psychic and emotional welfare.
Because Irreconcilable Differences races forward, often years at a time, in an attempt to tell a story that spans about 13 years in less than two hours, the story loses some of its initial intimacy. We get to know the characters well and are quickly jarred into their different iterations -- Albert goes from film geek to flashy director to jobless schlub, Lucy from idealistic children's writer to jaded Hollywood wife to arrogant famous author. And in all honesty, child emancipation is a rare, serious, complicated matter that is decidedly glossed over with relatively little justification in this film. But in a way, the surface premise is only a gateway into this tragic-but-funny, cynical-yet-hopeful story. The point is not whether we believe this child would be divorcing her parents, the point is that we believe in the emotions of the characters. We like these people even as they sink further and further into a black hole, and we root for their sensible, level-headed, uncommonly mature daughter to set them straight.
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