Lionsgate // 1984 // 113 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // April 14th, 2009
She'll do anything to keep her parents together...even divorce them!
The obscure 1984 film Irreconcilable Differences is actually the sophomore effort of then-screenwriting (and then husband-and-wife) team Charles Shyer and Nancy Myers. Four years before, they wrote and produced the Goldie Hawn hit Private Benjamin and complemented their initial success with 1987's Baby Boom, 1991's Father Of The Bride (and its sequel) as well as the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap. All of their films have enjoyed critical acclaim and Irreconcilable Differences is no exception. However, it made only a small profit at the box office and for unknown reasons, Warner Bros. decided to allow third-rate distributing companies like Vestron Video and Video Treasures to vomit it out on VHS. Now that it has finally come out on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate, is it worth a second look?
Told almost entirely in flashback, Irreconcilable Differences examines a marriage gone wrong. Once upon a time, Lucy (Shelley Long, Cheers) and Albert (Ryan O'Neal, Paper Moon) meet under unusual circumstances. He's hitchhiking out to Hollywood to find work teaching film; she's driving to meet her husband-to-be Bink (David Graf, Police Academy). Within a few days they fall in love, get married, and settle out in southern California. Soon after their daughter Casey (Drew Barrymore, Charlie's Angels) is born, Albert gets a once-in-lifetime opportunity: rewriting a big-budget romance which has remained in development hell for years. His inexperience in writing forces him to get Lucy to assist him, and together they churn out a blockbuster hit which soon makes Albert in demand.
For his next project, Albert sets his eyes on a young, gorgeous ingénue named Blake (Sharon Stone, Casino) to be his leading lady. Naturally, this adoption of sorts -- complete with the girl moving into their Hollywood Hills home -- scares the hell out of Lucy. When Albert starts lighting cigarettes for Blake, Lucy takes drastic measures by leaving her husband and moving into a cheap apartment where she becomes addicted to Haagen-Dazs. With her father now overdosing on Tinseltown excess and her mother living in a state of misery, precious Casey is left out in the cold, being treated more like a house pet than a daughter. The tables are soon turned, however, with Lucy writing a best-seller and Albert going broke after producing an expensive flop. Unfortunately, this only worsens the situation, with an ongoing battle of arguments; alas, little Casey is forced to take shelter with her parents' kindly housekeeper. Then, she comes up with a shocking course of action: suing her parents for divorce...and ultimately emancipating herself from their custody!
A disarming dramedy told with intelligence and conviction, Irreconcilable Differences deserves a much-bigger audience. It just floors me how Warner Bros. could unceremoniously dump this gem into the seventh circle of VHS hell. Granted, its profit was a mere $7 million, and the film must have been extremely difficult to market and promote because of its many story elements. Still, its star power alone should have solidified its studio stature. You have one of the biggest TV stars at the time in Long, who by this time was a Golden Globe and Emmy award winner for Cheers. O'Neal was one of biggest stars of the '70s, even if his career had by this time fizzled out. The icing on the casting cake was the adorable little girl who stole hearts around the world as Gertie in Spielberg's E.T.. On top of all that, Long and Barrymore both received well-deserved Golden Globe nominations for their excellent performances here. So, my question is simply...what the hell happened???
The strongest clues for the film's unexplained disappearance in a cinematic black hole are scattered in Shyer's and Myers' script. The blossoming romance and eventual deterioration of Albert and Lucy's marriage is actually based on the real-life courtship of Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) and his former wife/writing partner Polly Platt. Not all of this is stripped from the '70s gossip columns, but there are more parallels than you realize when it comes to the convergence of fact and fiction. Blake is really a clone of Cybill Shepherd and the mammoth musical extravaganza Atlanta (Albert's ill-conceived remake of Gone With the Wind with Blake as Scarlett) is clearly supposed to represent Bogdanovich's 1975 failure At Long Last Love. In fact, Bogdanovich is even mentioned by name at one point and it's no secret that Ryan O'Neal was the director's favorite leading man in many of his '70s films.
These thinly disguised story traits are also spiced up with a piquant amount of delicious Hollywood satire; truth is, Irreconcilable Differences doesn't exactly paint its product or participants in a particularly positive light. So, it seems like someone in the industry (whether they were a Warner suit or not) wasn't amused in the slightest and decided to damage the film's potential. This may sound inane today, but it's not all that far-fetched. Those with insider knowledge of the industry would surely be able to corroborate this notion.
Speculation aside, Irreconcilable Differences is winning entertainment that strikes just the right balance between humor, satire, and heartache. Nearly everything about the film works even though its fashion and hairstyles scream '80s to the max. Even its admittedly farcical premise pays off, as Shyer and Myers take an offbeat route and rarely take a misstep. This film is surely a welcome relief to the endless parade of comedies which insist on including a penis or vagina joke every five minutes. Interestingly enough, its PG rating was doled out simply because Stone briefly exposes her breasts!
Best of all, the actors are so natural in their roles that you'd think the parts were written specifically for them. O'Neal is perfect as a slimeball seduced by wealth and Long is a sheer delight, even if she does utilize her trademark kookiness from time to time. Neither of them plays sympathetic characters, which allows the audience to emotionally invest into the true heart of the piece: Drew Barrymore. Quite simply, she steals every scene she's in, including a climactic speech which is sure to touch the most cynical. Parents will most likely be affected the most, as the film is really about the ignoring and emotional abandonment of a child.
Lionsgate should be applauded for rescuing Irreconcilable Differences from the VHS wasteland, and it's no surprise that their presentation is of pretty much the exact same quality. Released as part of their newly created assembly-line "The Lost Collection" -- think of a cross between Paramount's "I Love The '80s" artwork and Legend Film releases of unreleased Paramount flix last year -- this film is so much on par with its original Vestron Video release it even includes the embarrassingly cheesy logo on the print! The picture quality is largely terrible, with endless scratches and cigarette burns, complete with some scenes which are so dark that you can't even make out the actor's faces. Thankfully, much of those scenes are weighted near the beginning; the rest of the film is clear enough to watch, though it's really a sad sight. I can't blame Lionsgate for this because this was really all they had to work with, as it's obvious they didn't have access to the original vault materials (which may not even exist anymore). The good news is that the audio has been given a fine upgrade, with a 5.1 Surround track giving the moving score and easily-discernible dialogue enough attention. Lionsgate has also graciously included subtitles in English and Spanish, but there is also optional closed captioning.
As much as I love the film, it is a tad overlong. Plus, the denouement feels rather tacked-on and convenient; otherwise, my complaints end there. This will no doubt be the best movie in terms of acting and writing in which the "Lost Collection" has to offer. Then again it's not a hard decision when compared to cheap '80s relics like Slaughter High and Repossessed.
Lionsgate had one opportunity which they seemed to have ignored completely, and that's enriching the extras. The sole bonus feature (if you don't count other studio release previews) is a trivia track supplied by an "'80s scholar" who is featured on the DVD case. In a word, it's pathetic. It's almost as if a Lionsgate worker decided to go to research for an hour at IMDb and Wikipedia, and then turning facts into T/F and multiple choice questions. Much of what is included has nothing to do with the film, which makes one only yearn more for a commentary by Shyer or Myers. Hell, even Drew Barrymore would no doubt want to say a few words on this. Come on, Lionsgate, we all know you could better than this. Again, pathetic!
Irreconcilable Differences is, if anything, ripe for re-discovery 25 years later. It may never be labeled a cult film, but it certainly warrants at least one watch. Recommended especially for fans of films by Shyer and Myers, especially the latter who branched out in the last decade to make What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give, and The Holiday. As with those efforts, Irreconcilable Differences is a pungent, mature movie which has sharp writing and effortless performances. It may not be perfect, but it definitely entertains and commands our attention.
Lionsgate is free to go, but advised to give us more than a tepid trivia
track on these Lost Collection entries. The film is found not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Trivia Track