I’ve always loved the road trip genre of film, it’s such a nice metaphor for character growth and there are usually some very scenic second unit shots that fulfill my wanderlust. There is comfort in these films as they usually all follow the same beats, but because of this they are almost always completely made or broken by the actors portraying the roles.
Because of this what you get out of The Long Dumb Road is going to depend entirely on how much you enjoy Jason Mantzoukas, because this is an hour and a half of him as the same character he’s played for years only finally in a genre where that character fits so well.
The Long Dumb Road
Director: Hannah Fidell
Release Date: November 9, 2018 (Limited) / November 16, 2018 (VOD)
The story of The Long Dumb Road is the exact same one you’ve seen multiple times, young and naive adolescent is on a road trip and somewhere along the way they pick up a seasoned and chaotic individual and they both learn from each other. The roles are filled by Nathan (Tony Revolori) as the freshmen heading to art school in LA and Richard (Jason Mantzoukas) the recently fired mechanic who fixes Nathan’s car then hitches a ride as payment.
I’ll fully admit that I find Mantzoukas’s shtick to be 100% offputting and annoying. When I went into this movie I was hoping for a new take from him rather than the same character that he has been playing for years. I didn’t get what I wanted, in The Long Dumb Road, Mantzoukas is Rafi from The League, Adrien Pimento from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and every other character he’s ever played. But it’s in this genre where his typecast character really fits.
Mantzoukas perfectly falls into the role of the chaotic wrench in Nathan’s somewhat well-working machine. Writer/director Hannah Fidell thankfully sprinkled a bit of regret in-between the chaos, these small glimpses of humanity from Richard help elevate his character to more than just a foil.
Nathan on the other hand has little to elevate him above anything more than the straight man. This could be due to the fact that the movie is short, 90 minutes including the credits. Because of this, there is little time to dwell on the events or how we got there but for the purposed of a road trip movie, that feels appropriate. I do wish it could have filled out at least a full hour and forty minutes just to bring some more growth for Nathan.
The cast of supporting characters also suffers from the short runtime as characters pop in and out constantly and despite seeing little threads of connections between the two main stars and the supporting characters, none of them ever truly stick. There’s plenty of stories here, just nothing overly profound. In a way though it feels more in line with an actual road trip instead of some glamorized Hollywood idea of one.
I would hazard to call this a comedy as it is being billed as, but that may be my dislike of Mantzoukas’s comedy style. I only laughed a handful of times throughout the entire movie, I more so felt this profound sadness for Richard as he grasped at whatever straw he saw that would possibly drag him out of the life he had made for himself. I suspect people who enjoy Mantzoukas’s comedy will get more mileage out of the comedy but for me, this was almost strictly a character study on the roving wanderer.
As stated in my opener, I love a good compilation of second unit landscape shots that usually accompany these movies and The Long Dumb Road doesn’t disappoint. The American southwest is in its full glory through both the eyes of cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo as well as Nathan who routinely stops to take photographs along the way.
I have a feeling that some will find the ending to be a bit abrupt and overly quick, but again this feeling seems to fit with the idea of a road trip which almost sums up the entire movie. You meet people along the way, you have your moments, then suddenly you’re onto the next destination. The Long Dumb Road does a great job at replicating this feel and because of that it feels right despite how short it is.