Lookin’ for Adventure and Whatever Comes Our Way, by Josh Long

6 Dec

It’s always a bit strange to me that the “road movie” is even a genre. It’s a weirdly specific format and structure, and while I don’t have any problems with it, I always wonder what draws people to that particular type of story. Maybe it’s the wonder of seeing different places, maybe it’s the pressure cooker of people trapped together in a vehicle (a plane, train, or automobile, if you will) for long periods of time. Maybe it’s the unlikely connections between people, which has become a staple of the genre. Whatever it is, people are still making road movies and will continue to do so. While Hannah Fidell’s The Long Dumb Road may not bring anything strikingly new to the road movie, the wit and the performances make it a worthwhile watch.

Nat (Tony Revolori) is a nineteen year old kid moving from Austin to Los Angeles for art school. When his car breaks down in west Texas, he finds mechanic Richard (Jason Mantzoukas) in the middle of angrily quitting his job. Richard takes Nat in stride and offers to fix his car. He does so gratis, but asks a favor in return – a ride to the bus station forty-five minutes up the road. Nat somewhat reluctantly agrees. But when they arrive, the bus station is closed. Nat, looking to gain some experiences outside his sheltered life, decides he’ll drive Richard further. What starts off as a simple favor becomes more and more complicated, as several stops along the way alternately bring them closer and drive them further apart.

Revolori and Mantzoukas make a great pair. Mantzoukas is best when he’s allowed to be this wild force of nature, where no one can really predict what he’ll do next. I don’t know if the script was written specifically with him in mind, but it’s perfectly suited to his “amiable dangerous guy” persona. Revolori plays a great foil to this, in that he’s a sheltered kid who wants “adventure,” but is unaware of (and maybe afraid of) what that might actually look like. So at times, he wants to grab life by the horns and follow Richard’s lead, and at other times, he backs away and climbs onto a high horse from which he can judge Richard’s admittedly poor decisions.

The story does stick to a typical road movie setup. Structurally it works, builds where it needs to, and includes conflict where needed. There are only a few moments where the film drags a bit. One (albeit small) element that stands out is the conflict between Richard’s and Nat’s generations. Richard is a brash Gen-Xer, and Nat is a cautious, PC millennial. The film spends a little time digging into the pros and cons of each, although I do wish it could do that even more. Still, it effectively avoids blanket deprecations about either generation. Maybe a synthesis between the two could highlight the strengths of each?

While the script may be a little formulaic, it is still funny, and elevated by a very funny, talented cast. The Long Dumb Road hits all the marks that a road movie is supposed to, with some real laughs and heartfelt moments along the way.

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