The frustrating thing about fender benders, well, one of the frustrating things about fender benders is that you were headed somewhere, and no matter how inconsequential that place is or was, it is almost always better than having to deal with some stranger who’s mood and reaction to the situation can be one of any thousand things, and words like ‘breakdown’, ‘insurance’, ‘sue’, ‘my neck hurts,’ or ‘smash your fucking face’ are on the tips of everyone’s tongue, ready to be unleashed if the wind blows with more enthusiasm than that person wants it to blow.
And that’s why you should love Road Movies. Everyone has a destination. The final act of the film happens where ever we’ve watched these characters try and get to for the last seventy-five minutes. These people that we’ve grown to hate and then love and that we’ve watched annoy the hell out of each other get to where they’re going and we get to see who they really are in the place they need to be.
I think everyone has had those long car rides. The ones with your sister asleep in the back and you and your dad talking quietly about Marquette’s three point shooting in the tournament this year, bringing her and her worldly possessions home from Notre Dame across four states. Driving with your buddies down endless roadways with aching hangovers on hot summer days or stuck in traffic with miles and miles yet to go and you haven’t even made one of those miles in the last hour. Someone inevitably peeing into a vessel of some sort that isn’t meant to be peed in, finding that it’s much easier to sleep in the back seat with your feet pretty much in each other’s faces, and where that idea might have been absurd at mile one, it’s mile four hundred and fifty three and the idea of personal space went out the window back by exit 171. Hearing the same song on the radio and everyone singing along but secretly wishing Jimmy would just listen. The quiet talks shared only by pilot, navigator, and the endless stream of headlights passing by you in the opposite lane. That time you drove through a two a.m. blizzard without blinking, that four hour car ride that took seven. Driving to D.C. for the weekend because you could, driving because you were 17 and didn’t need a parent in the car anymore and it was just twenty minutes up the Hutch but holy hell was it scary.
Tommy Boy (1995), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Road Trip (2000), Dumb and Dumber (1994), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Easy Rider (1969)- Road Movies capture those moments. Each one might be personal to you but when Tommy spills M&Ms in the dash you remember that slushie all over the back seat of your mom’s P.T. Cruiser, and when the cop pulls them over in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) you can’t help but think of that time in Australia with both your side mirrors broken off when you couldn’t help but give the wrong answer to every question. Stories are universal in the emotions they provoke, even if the situation is a bit different. Everyone needs to Road Trip (#200) before they die- up the coast, out to Cali, because it’s a long drive and your sister needs a copilot- whatever the reason, there are few things for bonding like having to deal with the terrible driving of a perfect stranger or a buddy you’ve known your whole life, of eating shitty cheeseburgers and drinking Ocean Water in the middle of the night because that Sonic craving hit you both at the same time. The shared common experience of you and your fellow travelers- where no space is just yours and no phone call is private and everyone eventually farts and everyone takes a shift behind the wheel more from a sense of duty than from actually wanting to drive- those things are universal. Every road tripper has experienced their version of those events, and some movies can just brilliantly capture those moments that make you remember fondly the funny bits and dread recalling the breakdowns and be very glad that you’re watching from the comfort of your couch but at the same time have a pang of nostalgia, a moment of longing to load up the mini school bus with Geoff and Steve and Dennis all over again next August.
This movie, Fandango (1985), is one of my favorites. Steven Spielberg saw this student film by this guy Kevin Reynolds, and helped him secure funding for a feature. He hated the finished film, so it didn’t end up getting a wide release. At any rate, I think it’s great, a road movie for the ages, an American classic. Five guys go on a road trip after college to meet their friend Dom and also just for the hell of it. They have a cooler in the back seat, and an open mind and just let things happen for awhile. The feeling of the utter freedom of a road trip comes through in this movie, better, I think, than any other that I’ve seen. That experience of guys who know each other too well, who are tired of the monotony they’ve come from, aren’t totally sure of where they’re headed, who packed themselves into a car together just to get away from each other back home, it really speaks to me. Definitely worth your time.