What’s a road movie, that well-travelled (oops, sorry) sub-genre? The story of one character or more starting on a road, sometimes just for the trip itself, more often to search for some ultimate prize or to meet one specific person or to reach a heard-of or remembered place. On the way, things happen. Over the decades, this sub-genre has grown into an industry of its own.
Just to name a few, from Preston Sturges’ one-of-a-kind road movie, “Sullivan’s Travels” about the eponymous director in search of realism in filmmaking, we went to Clouzot’s “The Wages of Fear” to Stanley Donen’s offbeat “Two for the Road,” to Godard’s “Weekend” to Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” etc., etc. all the way to the road movie to beat all road movies, “Easy Rider.”
From then on, the road movie takes one turn too many, especially in recent years, and becomes the eccentric trip of an eccentric character (sometimes traveling with other eccentric characters, as in Wes Anderson’s “Darjeeling Ltd.” or the not-at-all sunny “Little Miss Sunshine” or the excellent “Pieces of April”) meeting eccentric characters in eccentric situations.
The problem with this basic principle is that the screenwriter or director feels obligated to escalate the eccentricity and find ever more improbable people, settings, and situations. Thus “Mammuth,” a contrived Gérard Depardieu vehicle now screening in Paris–in this case the vehicle is a motorcycle actually called Mammuth on which rides the bloated, huge French actor, with blond tresses a la “Wrestler,” still very good at what he does.
And yes, we get the expected parade of harmless nuts in weird situations. It’s fun for a while, then starts grating. So here’s a novel proposition for whoever wants to make the next road movie. How about taking an regular guy or woman, putting them on the road to some unmomentous, not-life-changing destination, and on the way have them meet ordinary folks who will have with them banal conversations or maybe stop at the neighborhood Starbucks for a cup of java? Imagine.
The road in this movie would be much like the road we travel on daily. Nothing earth-shattering, maybe, but familiar, restful, and profoundly original.