Summer is finally here. Temperatures are rising around the US of A. Road trips are a tradition for a lot of people and families. Some folks plan out their road trip to the “T” leaving no room for error. Others throw some bags in the back of their particular mode of transportation and head off into the unknown. In our third annual road trip movie round up we take a look at a few reasons why people will head out on the open road.
Terrance Malick’s first feature film Badlands is loosely based on the real life events of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril Anne Fugate. Starkweather and Fugate were wanted for multiple murders in two different states. The couple were finally caught and sentenced in 1958.
Badlands stars Martin Sheen as Kit, based on Starkweather, and Sissy Spacek, in her first feature film, as Holly. The duo start and end their road trip in the same state, but no one every said a road trip had to be out of state. There are no rules to the road trip.
Kit and Holly’s “road trip” starts after Kit kills Holly’s father, played by Warren Oates. After setting fire to Holly’s house the two take off across South Dakota leaving a few dead bodies behind them as they head into the Badlands. But for all the driving you never actually get the feeling law enforcement is hot on their trail or even aware they exist.
The Malick trademarks are all present in his first movie. Spacek’s Holly provides a voice over through out the movie. Unlike a lot of movies that use voice overs Holly’s voice over in Badlands doesn’t explain the movie. It’s not being used as a crutch for poor storytelling. Instead Holly’s voice over fill in the blanks and add more detail than what we see on screen. There’s plenty of close ups of nature and wide shots to make any Malick fan happy.
The media making a celebrity out of someone for doing nothing or for doing bad is not a new advent. The ending scenes of Badlands finds Kit the center of everyone’s attention. Badlands predated the celebrity culture we think started with the rise of YouTube and social media by more than forty years.
Director Hannah Fidell’s The Long Dumb Road finds Nat on a cross country road trip from his home in Texas to an art school in Los Angeles. Along the way Richard, a down and out loser, cons his way into Nat’s car and on the road to L.A.
Once Richard enters the picture the movie starts down the road a thousand other road trip movies have covered. Nat is a sheltered well off kid while Richard’s been around the block. In order to keep his ride, Richard strings Nat along with wild antics, nights out drinking, and trying to get Nat laid. Eventually Nat has enough and makes a futile attempt to ditch Richard. By the end of the movie the two have learned to like each other and have become friends.
The Long Dumb Road is about as inspired as its name. There’s nothing new offered in the movie. For those who think it’s a road movie and how much can you do with a road movie need to check out John Hughes’s Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, David Lynch’s The Straight Story, or Wim Wender’s Kings of the Road. There are still original stories to tell from the road and different ways to tell a road trip movie, but Fidell’s movie is not that movie.
After being dumped by her married boyfriend Elizabeth, played by Norah Jones in her only role not playing Norah Jones, heads out on the road to “find herself.” Elizabeth writes postcards to Jeremy, her new friend who runs a New York City diner, along her journey bouncing from job to job and city to city filling him on what’s going on in her trip. It’s through the postcards we realize Jeremy and Elizabeth were meant to be together. The point being is sometimes we have to go far away to realize what we needed was at home the whole time.
Director Kar Wai Wong’s (Chungking Express) My Blueberry Nights isn’t a traditional road trip movie. Besides the postcards Wong’s road trip movie is told in 2 major vignettes. The first finds Elizabeth befriending Arnie (David Strathairn, Good Night, And Good Luck), a police officer, who is handling the break up of his marriage with the help of the bottle. The second vignette Natalie Portman as Leslie. Leslie is a professional poker player. Elizabeth and Leslie go on a small road trip in Las Vegas before Elizabeth heads back to New York.
Unlike most of your traditional road trip movies My Blueberry Nights, named after the pie Jeremy and Elizabeth share, ends where it began. Wong leaves behind the usual trappings of road trip movie and concentrates on Elizabeth’s emotional journey. Through her travels Elizabeth’s heart is healed and Jeremy is still waiting for her. Will the couple stay together? All the clues say, “Yes.” It’s a satisfying ending to a slow character driven movie.