Screenwriter Frederic Raphael, adapting the script from his own novel, falls off said tightrope early on in Coast to Coast crafting dual protagonists that are so grating, grouchy and generally unlikable that, from an early point, the audience can do little other than root for their downfall.
Barnaby (Richard Dreyfuss) is an out-of-work television writer with a marriage that is falling apart – not just at the seams. He and his wife, Maxine (Judy Davis), decide to drive across country for their daughter's wedding, agreeing to finalize their divorce after the ceremony. The drive acts as the metaphorical "handcuffs" that bind Maxine and Barnaby together as they visit old acquaintances and learn to love again.
The script is set up in its entirety in the first ten minutes, and it is here that the film's biggest problem rears its head; Coast to Coast has no sense of subtlety. The back-story comes fast and furious in cringe-worthy dialogue between Dreyfuss and a nosy neighbor. Plot points and revelations are handled with all the care of a sledgehammer. Nothing is left for the audience to deduce; it's all laid out in stark relief for the audience to absorb, but never think about.
At no point in the script or in the performances did I believe, even for a second, that there was an ounce of true affection or love between Dreyfuss or Davis. That's not to say that Dreyfuss and Davis did a poor job – both are tremendous actors and I thought Dreyfuss' performance was one of his best in the last few years. However, there was nothing in the script or the shot choices that showed why these two would be together in the first place.
Moreover, both Dreyfuss and Davis spend their conversations exclusively sniping at each other. It may be realistic, but it does not make for an interesting relationship for a film.