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Irreconcilable Differences

Olive Films // PG // February 19, 2013
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jesse Skeen | posted February 22, 2013 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

In the early 80s, divorce suddenly became a big subject in the media, particularly when it involved couples with kids. Irreconcilable Differences, released in 1984, addressed not only the divorce of parents but of their daughter filing for legal divorce, or emancipation, from them as well.

The movie begins with what was the biggest moment in the trailer and other advertising materials- eight-year-old Casey Brodsky (played by Drew Barrymore in her second post- E. T. appearance) in a lawyer's office saying "I want to divorce my parents." She then enters the courthouse followed by a mob of reporters and kids cheering her on, and her father Albert (Ryan O'Neal) is first asked to testify, followed by her mother Lucy (Shelley Long). The bulk of the movie is flashbacks showing what they are talking about, beginning with how Albert first met Lucy when he was hitchhiking to Hollywood to accept a job as a film professor. Lucy was engaged already, but she suddenly falls in love with Albert and breaks off her prior engagement. (She seems to really fall for him after they spend the night at a motel and watch An Affair to Remember dubbed in Spanish on TV, with Albert explaining to her what's going on and getting emotionally caught up in it. Before DVDs made it easy to hear foreign-language dubs of movies, they were quite a novelty whenever they could be caught.) They get married and Casey is born. Then Albert meets movie mogul David Kessler (Sam Wanamaker) and breaks into the movie business after he points out problems with a rough cut of a movie and David offers to let him re-cut it. After that he and Lucy write a screenplay together which becomes a big hit movie, and they're riding high. Problems arise however during production of their follow-up film. Albert discovers Blake Chandler (Sharon Stone) working at a hot dog stand and is convinced that she is perfect to star in it, and immediately moves her into their home so they can work on the role closely with her. Albert soon becomes attracted to Blake and Lucy moves out, taking Casey with her. Casey is then forced to alternate her time with each parent.

Even more goes wrong, with Albert and Blake's relationship falling apart after their next film together (a big-budget musical version of Gone With the Wind) turns out to be a critical and commercial failure. Lucy meanwhile finds success as a novelist. Albert tries to get back on his feet, but Lucy then tries to keep Casey away from him completely, resulting in a fight and Casey filing to divorce herself from them.

I had first seen Irreconcilable Differences on VHS shortly after it was released- being about 13 at the time, I found it mildly entertaining but was mostly disappointed that the movie focused more on the parents' lives and not so much on Casey- although the purpose of the movie is her divorcing herself from her parents, most of the running time is spent showing Albert and Lucy's rise to fame and subsequent problems, leaving Casey more of a supporting character. That of course could be one of the movie's points- that her parents are just too wrapped up in themselves to be a decent mother and father to her. Seeing the movie now, I still feel that Casey didn't get enough screen time, and there seems to be an element of her becoming a celebrity over the ordeal (with news coverage of the "divorce" and kids outside the courthouse holding up signs and chanting in support of her, during the movie's beginning) that isn't given any further thought either. Barrymore plays it like her character is smarter than most of the adults, but innocently asks questions like "What do you call it when you have no money?" in regards to bankruptcy, which got a big laugh out of me.

I did appreciate all of the shots at the movie industry in this film however; when I had first seen it I had just started to become interested in the goings-on behind the scenes of movies and the not-so-perfect lives of those involved. It turns out (though reading and the audio commentary on this disc, which I'll discuss more later here) many of the situations were inspired by director Peter Bogdanovich and troubles with his wife Polly Platt after becoming attracted to actress Cybill Shepherd. The fictitious movie produced here titled Atlanta, which ends up killing Albert and Blake's careers, is said to have been a jab at Bogdanovich's 1975 musical flop At Long Last Love which he made mostly as a vehicle for Cybill Shepherd. (Having never been released on home video, I missed that when it was recently on Netflix and am looking forward to its upcoming Blu-Ray release!) In real life, Drew Barrymore also ended up legally emancipating herself from her parents at age 15.


Having been previously issued on DVD in 4x3 format, Irreconcilable Differences is presented on Blu-Ray in full-screen 16x9, encoded in AVC format at 1080p. At first glance, the transfer looks pretty good. Details are sharp, and film grain has been left alone- some dark scenes near the beginning have more grain than the lighter scenes. However, several minutes in I noticed a bit of what appears to be digital filtering, similar to what was used on several of Warner's early Blu-Ray and HD-DVD transfers (such as The Fugitive, Lethal Weapon 2 and The Perfect Storm) but not quite as pronounced. It still added blockiness to items such as lettering on a poster in one scene, or stripes on actors' clothes. There is also some rather awful artifacting during the end credits, which scroll over a reprise of an earlier scene where O'Neal and Long are dancing over a completely black background- blocky compression artifacts are seen dancing along with them.


Audio is in its original mono form in DTS-HD Master Audio, with only the center channel signal present. Dialogue is clear, but there is a slight hum during a few scenes. Most likely this has always been present on the master recording, as sound was still not a big priority on all movies at this time.

(No subtitles or captions are included, although the original Vestron Video release from 1985 was closed-captioned.)


An audio commentary during the movie is included (in 1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio, the first time I have seen a commentary track presented in hi-res audio) with director Charles Shyer and Bruce A. Block who served as "filmic consultant" here and has gone on to co-produce several of Shyer's later movies. They do some of the usual commenting at people onscreen having been "really good actors" but throw in some interesting info as well, such as that many characters in the movie were based on real people who they aren't at liberty to name, and many of the clothes and props used came right from Charles Shyer and co-writer Nancy Meyers' home, as the budget was rather low. They also point out friends, family and crew members making cameo appearances. One of them comments early on about seeing reel-change cues on the film they are watching, although they do not show up on the Blu-Ray disc.

A short introduction from Charles Shyer is also included, where he says that he's glad Irreconcilable Differences is out on Blu-Ray but having not seen it himself in several years is worried about how well it will hold up now. This would have been better seen before the movie, but being on the Extras menu most probably won't see it until afterwards. Then there's a "Making-of Featurette" which is only two minutes long and has Shyer talking over some storyboards and black-and-white production photos, followed by a "Gallery" showing more black-and-white production stills with part of the film's score playing over them. These are presented in HD, but then there's a theatrical trailer in standard-def, 4x3 letterbox which looks like it was taken from a VHS tape, with very noisy sound (but still encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio!)

Final Thoughts:

I found Irreconcilable Differences still holds up well today, although some of it is just dated enough to laugh at. Casey's situation is depicted sympathetically without ruining the humor the movie is also going for. Film buffs especially will appreciate this for the inside jokes and the father starting out obsessed with movies and eventually becoming a caricature of a self-obsessed filmmaker. Although the picture quality could have been better, this is the best Irreconcilable Differences has looked on any home format thus far.

Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.

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