The “buddy comedy” and “road movie” genre has always connected with audiences for the stories of personal growth that they inherently tell.
Previously comfortable or complacent characters who are met with obstacles that force them to recognize personal flaws, and by doing so grow from them, are movies that have a lot to offer audiences. Updating this template for the millennial generation, writer/director Hannah Fidell, whose last feature film was the steamy young love study 6 Years, takes this framework and adds a winning ingredient – funnyman Jason Mantzoukas as an unemployable drifter – to make the charming, delightful and heart-warming film The Long Dumb Road.
Taking his family’s mini-van across state lines to begin art school in Los Angeles, incoming freshman Nathan (Tony Revelori) expects nothing more than a nice drive where he can pull over and rattle off some photos on his film camera on his way to orientation, but plans change when his car breaks down. The first person Nathan meets is a very recently unemployed (quite literally quitting his job in hilariously theatrical fashion when we meet him) Richard (Mantzoukas), who puts the “manic” in “mechanic.” Nathan agrees to take Richard to his newly chosen destination – Las Vegas – as it’s on the way to art school, and some company would be appreciated.
Nathan is an intelligent kid with his wits about him, collected and measured enough to bet that offering Richard a ride wouldn’t be a threat to him. The number of road beers and joints that Richard sparks, coupled with his overly braggadocios demeanor, only reveals his good-natured easy-goingness, something that Nathan realizes he could use a little more of in his own life. Of course, a number of not so enlightening incidents occur during the new friends’ journey through the American Southwest: an “almost” bar fight; disastrously reuniting with a lost love; overstepping boundaries with new flirty acquaintances (Taissa Farmiga, Grace Gummer), and getting set back by an old friend of Richard’s in a very inconveniencing way.
As he did in The Grand Budapest Hotel and more recently Spider-Man: Homecoming, Revolori shows that he’s able to hold his own against heavy-weight presences, but this time as just a young, earnest millennial without any character dressings. It’s Mantzoukas who is the fuel of this movie, each of his impulsive and poor decisions more entertaining than the last. It’s a joy to see Mantzoukas, who always elevates any production he’s in as a supporting role, buddy up with a sort of adopted brother dynamic to play to his strengths as leading man.
Whereas the artfully-eyed yet heavy-handed 6 Years saw Fidell explore the somber notes that young people’s mutually exclusive relationships can bring, The Long Dumb Road (as can probably be inferred by its title alone) has almost one-hundred percent less seriousness in it (a final act triumph includes Mantzoukas attempting to defecate on an enemy’s lawn), and it’s all the more watchable for it. At a tight ninety minutes, The Long Dumb Road, co-written by Carson Mell, sees Fidell exploring her own new world– comedy. It is a much looser style then we’ve seen her embrace before, which reminds us that sometimes the best thing we can learn is to not take ourselves too seriously.
90 min. ‘The Long Dumb Road’ is not yet rated.