In a groaningly meta moment in the 1984 comedy Irreconcilable Differences, Rex Reed tells his audience that one character’s early success as a movie-mad auteur placed him in the rarified ranks of Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich, high atop the Hollywood food chain. The moment is heavy in irony, as the character—played by Ryan O’Neal—is essentially Bogdanovich, who directed O’Neal in three films, and Differences is a fictionalized take on the marriage and divorce of Bogdanovich and ex-wife/collaborator Polly Platt.
Though it was marketed as a comedy about a doe-eyed moppet (Drew Barrymore) divorcing her squabbling parents, the courtroom shenanigans function primarily as a framing device. The film takes place largely in flashback, chronicling the rocky relationship between O’Neal’s geeky film professor turned Hollywood player and his long-suffering wife, Shelley Long. O’Neal and Long’s relationship follows the arc of A Star Is Born, as O’Neal rockets to superstardom while Long lingers unhappily in his shadow and helplessly watches him fall into lust with his new leading lady (Sharon Stone, in a viciously funny parody of Bogdanovich muse Cybill Shepherd). Their fortunes reverse when O’Neal sinks his fortune into a disastrous musical version of Gone With The Wind while Long’s novel rockets up the bestseller list, with her ego exploding accordingly.
Differences would have benefited from a more cerebral lead actor, but O’Neal does a good job of capturing Bogdanovich’s ingratiating passion for cinema and his fatal hubris, and the script scores some clever jabs at the vapid self-absorption of show-biz types, like a woman who has children but tells Long she’s not “into parenting” at the moment. Long is initially affecting as a woman so beaten down she’s reduced to leaning on her prepubescent daughter for counsel, but her transformation from frumpy single mother to air-kissing Hollywood phony feels artificial and abrupt. At 113 minutes, Differences outstays its welcome, but film buffs should enjoy its genially amusing riff on ’70s Hollywood mythology, even as they cringe at the phenomenally shitty picture quality of the DVD’s egregiously awful transfer, which is so degraded, it looks like it was taped off James Woods’ station in Videodrome.
Key features: A skimpy, unedifying “trivia track.”