Shana Feste, the writer/director that gave us the horrible Country Strong, has done a bit better with this movie. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s also chock full of cliches and a tired road-trip premise; it has a dysfunctional family, and about 18 adult diaper jokes too many. Yet, I was so charmed by Christopher Plummer, and enjoyed the solid performance from Vera Farmiga, that it won me over (the cute dogs helped, too). It’s kind of like when you’re on a long road-trip with your family and are a bit bored at times, but when it’s all said and done, and you look at photos later — you have fonder memories of it all.
Laura (Vera Farmiga) starts the movie off at her psychiatrist. We find out she found a stray animal on the way in, and this is something they’re grappling with (and she’ll grapple with the rest of the film). She has issues regarding her estranged father Jack (Christopher Plummer). Yet because she needs money to pay for her son’s (Lewis MacDougall) private school…and Jack was just kicked out of his senior living facility…she goes to pick up Dad and bring him home.
Laura always ends up in bed with men that aren’t right for her, but in one of the nice surprises, they don’t go over the top with the first guy we see. In fact, he doesn’t seem all that bad. He snaps at her because one of her many cats jumps on his face in the morning, and he’s ticked off. He tells her she might be going to heaven for all this “rescuing animals crap”, but it’s not the situation for him. And just as the movie impresses me with this rather adult disagreement, teenage son Henry gives him a crudely drawn photo. He’s been getting into trouble at school for drawing naked photos of the administration. Laura seems only slightly bothered by this, and…that’s one of the same things that bothered me about Marisa Tomei playing that type of character in Cyrus. If you’re not disciplining your son’s behavior, you’re making it hard for us to root for you both.
Jack is picked up in Seattle, and after a quick stop to see her free-spirit wacko sister JoJo (the always funny Kristen Schaal), the journey begins. Oh, one other thing. The dad secretly stocks the trunk of their car with lots of marijuana. You see, he’s a drug dealer. And with each mention of needing to stop and change his diapers along the way, he’s selling weed at the various truck stops. That means you can see a lot of the scenarios that will arise, but there’s enough humor, and the characters all start to grow on you.
It’s nice that we get to see this rich cast of actors we love along the way. At one point, they stop at a hippie’s house (Christopher Lloyd). He has a mentally challenged son, and seeing Plummer be so good with him warms your heart.
There’s the ex-husband, and absent father, played by Bobby Cannavale. It’s a little hard to believe the scenario that takes place with him, but he’s an actor I enjoy watching.
Peter Fonda has made the news recently talking about Melania’s son Barron being kidnapped, and thrown in jail with some pedophiles. That’s a shame, because when he pops up in movies like this, it’s always a treat [side note: he did a low-key movie called Ulee’s Gold about a beekeeper 20 years ago that was great].
A few of the contrivances get to be a bit much, and the tone of the film is all over the place.
Also, scenes that are so easy to make funny, weren’t always done well. One of those involves a cop driving by after the pot from the trunk ends up all over the highway. I immediately thought of a handful of movies that have done similar scenes wonderfully.
So, they have arguably the best cast of a movie all year, and I’m wishing the Fonda scene was done differently, as well as Cannavale’s scenes, and that Schaal’s character was a bit less wacky (a scene with her dance routine to Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” is just dreadful).
Overall, this road trip picture was a ride I was glad to take.
3 stars out of 5.