With five nominations, it looks like Superbad will be the star of the 2008 MTV Movie Awards, and its three jubilant male leads -- Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse -- deserve the kudos. But one major talent behind the whole affair has stayed relatively anonymous while these young up-and-comers bathe in the spotlight: Director Greg Mottola. The erstwhile independent filmmaker, responsible for some of the best installments of Arrested Developed and Undeclared, launched his career a solid decade before the rise of Judd Apatow with a charming little low budget comedy called The Daytrippers. Starring Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis, Liev Schreiber, Parker Posey and a host of other fantastic character actors, the film follows a wildly dysfunctional family over the course of a single day, as Davis, playing a worrisome housewife, tries to track down her unfaithful husband (Tucci).

Mixing warm humanity with pitch-perfect screwball timing, Daytrippers marked the sort of debut that told you a filmmaker had a big career ahead of him. After a modest premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival, it landed at Cannes, barely got a theatrical release and promptly vanished thereafter. Mottola turned to TV work, and slipped out of the film scene for a good ten years. These days, it's no easy task to track down Daytrippers on DVD -- you can nab second-hand copies on Amazon for decent rates, but not a single retail outlet carries it. Aside from the occasionally airings on cable, the movie has vanished.



When I asked Mottola about this during a recent appearance he made at the Apple store in Soho, the director said that legal issues have kept the DVD out of circulation. However, Sony -- the folks behind Superbad -- now own the rights to Daytrippers, and suggested to him that they might give the film a proper home video release sometime in the future. That would help audiences get a better sense for the scope of Mottola's developing career, but it's not like he needs the extra boost: His third feature, the jolly coming-of-age comedy Adventureland, hits theaters in August. Mottolla showed an extended trailer at the Apple store, and it looks promising: The zany story of an aimless teenager (Jesse Eisenberg) wasting his time as the employee of an amusement park, it comes across as a cozy marriage of romantic awkwardness (Eisenberg splashing around in a swimming pool, desperately trying to flirt with an acquaintance) and unruly humor (Bill Hader, as Eisenberg's boss, hurling a bat at disgruntled customers). "It's a look at middle class life in all its dullness," Mottola said. Sounds like he's found his niche.