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Irreconcilable Differences is a 1984 comedy-drama film starring Ryan O'Neal, Shelley Long and Drew Barrymore.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

The film begins with media attention surrounding Casey Brodsky (Drew Barrymore)'s decision to divorce her parents and have her nanny, Maria Hernandez (Hortensia Colorado), appointed as Casey's legal guardian which results in her parents, Albert (Ryan O'Neal) and Lucy (Shelley Long) Brodsky being brought out of their respective self-absorbed lives and made to testify in court about their personal lives.

Much of the film is presented as flashbacks.

At a truck stop in Indiana on the night of January 20th, 1973, film professor Albert Brodsky is hitchhiking across the country, where he gets picked up by Lucy van Patten, a woman who has ambitions of writing books, particularly for children, but her fiancé "Bink" (David Graf), a gruff Navy man, represses her and she is depressed about being relegated to the life of a military wife.

Through getting to know Albert, Lucy loosens her inhibitions, breaks off her engagement to Bink and marries Albert shortly afterwards. The couple moves to California, where Albert attaches himself to a famed Hollywood producer, who entrusts him to film a romantic script the producer has kept shelved for a long time.

When Albert suffers from writer's block about the romance, Lucy aids him with her writing skills. The film becomes a box office hit, but the cracks are forming in Albert and Lucy's marriage, particularly since Albert was slow to credit Lucy for the screenplay and he is frequently traveling to places such as Cannes, France, while leaving his daughter in the care of Lucy or more often Maria, their maid.

When Albert sees a young woman named Blake Chandler (Sharon Stone) working at a hot dog stand, he takes her home and casts her in his next movie, which becomes a moderate success.

When Lucy sees signs that Albert is interested in Blake for more than just acting, she divorces him, further troubling Casey. Albert ensures that Lucy gets custody of Casey, while he lives in a Hollywood mansion with Blake.

A turning point occurs when Lucy (angered both at Albert's procrastination in paying child support and at the sight of a sloppy, overweight woman in a supermarket buying the same comfort food as she is), hurries home and channels her anger into writing a tell-all novel.

Meanwhile, Albert's producers are warning him not to attempt his musical remake of "Gone with the Wind" which he is calling "Atlanta," but Albert ignores their advice, and his budget for the picture skyrockets, mainly because of his own perfectionist attitude and Blake's diva-like behavior on set.

"Atlanta" becomes an embarrassing box office bomb, costing Albert any assignments in Hollywood and causing Blake to desert him. Meanwhile, Lucy's novel becomes a runaway success, allowing her to buy and move into Albert's former mansion and she begins to morph into a diva.

There is a final confrontation in which Albert and Lucy quarrel in front of Casey about her custody which degenerates into a literal tug of war with each parent pulling on one of Casey's arms, ignoring her pained protests. That is the final straw for Casey, who then decides to divorce both her parents.

The film then returns to the courtroom where Casey gives testimony that just because two parents no longer love each other, that does not give them the right to ignore their children. Both Albert and Lucy break down in tears. Maria is given legal custody of Casey.

The film ends with both Lucy and Albert arriving at Maria's house for visitation with Casey at the same time by mistake and all deciding to go out to eat together at a family restaurant, suggesting there is now a more peaceful, though decidedly bittersweet, relationship among the three.


  • Ryan O'Neal as Albert Brodsky
  • Shelley Long as Lucy Van Patten Brodsky
  • Drew Barrymore as Casey Brodsky
  • Sam Wanamaker as David Kessler
  • Allen Garfield as Phil Hanner
  • Sharon Stone as Blake Chandler
  • Beverlee Reed as Dotty Chandler
  • Hortensia Colorado as Maria Hernandez
  • David Graf as Bink


Box Office

"Irreconcilable Differences" debuted at #3 at the box office, grossing at $3,076,894 during its opening weekend, ranking behind films "All of Me" and "The Wild Life."

Critical Reception

The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics, as it currently holds a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Janet Maslin from the New York Times reviewed the movie, stating:

"Mr. O'Neal's charm and professionalism shine through despite such handicaps, as do Miss Long's talents as a comedienne. A sequence in which she, with the help of heavy padding, is supposed to grow slovenly and fat is saved from ludicrousness by the convincing anguish she brings to the Brodskys' marital breakup. Both adult stars work hard to make the movie likable, even when it turns into the story of two overpaid egomaniacs (Lucy, after years of helping her husband with his screenplays, eventually becomes a famous novelist). As their daughter, Drew Barrymore, is much too studiously adorable, a far cry from the sweetly un-self-conscious performer she was in "E.T." "

Roger Ebert gave the movie 4 in a half stars, saying that "Irreconcilable Differences" is "sometimes cute, and is about mean parents, but it also is one of the funnier and more intelligent movies of 1984, and if viewers can work their way past the ungainly title, they're likely to have a surprisingly good time."


Golden Globe Awards

  • Drew Barrymore (Best Supporting Actress) (nominated)
  • Shelley Long (Best Actress: Comedy or Musical) (nominated)

Theatrical Trailer


Irreconcilable Differences (1984) Trailer