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A mismatched-travelers yarn that could well have been financed by AAA’s marketing department, Hannah Fidell’s The Long Dumb Road observes the trouble that follows when a stranded cross-country driver gets roadside assistance from a less than reputable vendor. Life lessons emerge alongside the mishaps, of course: This and every other law of the road-movie genre will be followed by the likable but familiar comedy. Best served here is Jason Mantzoukas, whose performance as the voyage’s designated troublemaker suggests he should graduate from his accustomed place in support roles.
Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel) plays Nathan, a 19 year-old driving from Austin to Los Angeles, hoping to expand his horizons in art school. Doesn’t he know life’s major lessons rarely arrive in the classroom? He meets his sensei of the streets when his car conks out in West Texas, leading him to beg for help from Mantzoukas‘ Richard — who, conveniently, has just gotten himself fired from an auto garage.
Nathan, a budding photographer, has been stopping along the way shooting pictures of ugly Americana (big box stores, etc.) that he intends to rediscover with his camera. (It’s unclear whether he knows he’s following in a few thousand footsteps.) He initially looks at Richard through these eyes, asking to shoot the colorful mechanic’s portrait. Soon he’s stuck driving Richard from Fort Stockton to Marfa (and, of course, beyond), and must figure out if there’s a human being under all that attitude.
“I will rip the condom off your mind so you can fuck this world raw,” Richard promises the meek teen. But soon the tables are turned, with Nathan having to buck up Richard’s courage as they go to visit an old girlfriend. Later, the kid will be the one with nerve when the pair must face a gun-toting felon. The student becomes the master, that is, before the lessons really got started.
In between comes the rather slim meat of the film, a too-good-to-be-plausible chance meeting in which these two bump into their female counterparts. Grace Gummer and Taissa Farmiga play sisters on a road trip, one shy and one loud; their easy acceptance of Richard’s come-ons leads us to expect they’re con artists, but, after a few nice moments between Revolori and Farmiga, the reality proves less interesting.
Likable moments are scattered throughout, even if (like a how-to-hitchhike nod to It Happened One Night) they aren’t exactly fresh. But while the curves in the road are new to the heroes, they’re well known to fans of indie film, and Long Dumb Road just barely coasts across the finish line before we’re ready to get out and push.
Production company: Pretty Good Films
Cast: Jason Mantzoukas, Tony Revolori, Casey Wilson, Taissa Farmiga, Grace Gummer, Ron Livingston
Director: Hannah Fidell
Screenwriters: Hannah Fidell, Carson Mell
Producers: Jacqueline E. Ingram, Hannah Fidell, Kelly Williams, Jonathan Duffy
Executive producers: Mynette Louie, Alicia Van Couvering
Director of photography: Andrew Droz Palermo
Production designer: Almitra Corey
Costume designer: Annell Brodeur
Editor: Zach Clark
Composers: Keegan DeWitt & The Cookhouse Boys
Casting director: Rich Delia
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)
Sales: UTA, ICM