'Shut Up and Drive': Tribeca Review

SHUT UP AND DRIVE Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

SHUT UP AND DRIVE Still - H 2015

Despite fine performance and incisive moments, this rambling effort is too low-key to have the desired impact

Two disparate young women form an unlikely friendship in Melanie Shaw's road-trip dramedy.

Narrative minimalism produces diminishing returns in Melanie Shaw's (Running Wild) microbudgeted sophomore feature about two disparate women who embark on a cross-country road trip and form an unlikely friendship along the way. Clearly influenced by John Cassavetes in its semi-improvisational style and emphasis on subtle character development, Shut Up and Drive features some incisive moments but despite its brief running time ultimately feels as long and drawn-out as the journey it depicts. The film recently received its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The story concerns Jane (Sarah Sutherland) and her live-in actor/musician boyfriend Austin (Morgan Krantz), who are preparing for the impending visit of his childhood friend Laura (Zoe Worth), with whom he also has a romantic history. But just as Laura, who plans to work with Austin on recording an album, arrives at the couple's Los Angeles home, he receives a call from his agent informing him that he's landed a starring role in a film that's due to begin shooting immediately in New Orleans.

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Upon her boyfriend's departure, the high-strung Jane finds herself left alone with Laura, who quickly lives up to Austin's description of her as being rather difficult. Displaying few practical skills — after messing up the apartment's washing machine, she admits that at the age of 22 she's never actually done her own laundry — Laura quickly drives Jane to distraction. But when Austin calls Laura to invite her to come to New Orleans so they can continue working on their music, the insecure Jane, not wanting to be left alone, decides to accompany her, on the pretext of wanting to surprise him on his impending birthday.

Other than a scary episode in which Laura is sexually accosted by a stranger in the bathroom of a seedy Route 66 bar, not much of interest happens on the long trip. Laura accidentally flushes her credit card down the toilet; the car breaks down; the two women visit a thrift store; they park in a field and look at some cows; and they visit an amusement park where Jane freaks out on a Ferris wheel. They also visit one of Laura's eccentric friends who lives in a trailer park.

Along the way, not surprisingly, they also form a tentative friendship, gradually learning to accept each other's neurotic tendencies. By the time they finally arrive in New Orleans and encounter Austin — clad in a Civil War-era Union soldier uniform and clearly surprised to see Jane — it becomes clear that both women have been transformed by the experience.

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The filmmaker has elicited fully lived-in performances by the lead actresses, real-life friends who collaborated with her in developing their characters. But their efforts are not enough to provide sufficient dramatic momentum to the rambling, diffuse proceedings. Shut Up and Drive features an emotionally satisfying final moment, but it doesn't compensate for the tiresomely low-key nature of everything that's preceded it.

Production companies: The Collectin, Starstream Entertainment, Tunnel Post
Cast: Sarah Sutherland, Zoe Worth, Morgan Krantz, James Duval
Director-screenwriter: Melanie Shaw
Producers: Pete Pietrangeli, Dylan Harris, Tattijani Ribeiro, Zoe Worth
Executive producers: Kim Leadford, Charles Bonan, Daniel McCarney, Felice Dieppa
Director of photography: Daniel Chen
Production designer: Emma Berliner
Editor: Brad Allen Wilde
Costume designers: Emma Berliner, Natalie Ziering

Not rated, 80 minutes