In recent years, Indy Film Fest has done a couple things really well - they've managed to find a seriously kickass opening night film, this year it was Tully, and they've managed to shine the spotlight on one film with a Hoosier connection that seems likely to reach a wider audience. In the latter case, 2018 brings us The Long Dumb Road, a film co-written and directed by Indiana University graduate Hannah Fidell, whose short film We're Glad You're Here screened at Indy Film Fest in 2011.
The Long Dumb Road, which also closed out this year's Sundance Film Festival, follows two men, Richard (Jason Mantzoukas) and Nathan (Tony Revolori), who accidentally meet when they are both facing personal, emotional intersections and they decide to embark on an unplanned road trip across the Southwest.
For fans of Jason Mantzoukas, and that should be just about everybody, The Long Dumb Road is a rare opportunity to see the comedian with a cult following in a leading role. It's an opportunity, unfortunately, that has mixed results as the script, co-written by Fidell with Carson Mell, never quite lives up to Mantzoukas's ability to make the most of it.
Tony Revolori, whom I openly confess I'd predicted would be a one and done actor after his breakout in The Grand Budapest Hotel, once again proves me wrong as Nat, bound for art school and lacking in anything resembling life skills. While the majority of the heavy cinematic lifting falls to Mantzoukas, Revolori does find work here as he's continued to do in less visible roles since The Grand Budapest Hotel. He's mostly tasked with balancing out Mantzoukas and giving us a more relatable character.
Mantzoukas, on the other hand, finds every little nuance of both comic and tragic potential in the character of Richard, a recently fired wanderer of sorts whose life ends up being a whole lot more complicated than you think it's going to be when everything starts out. Even when the story betrays Mantzoukas, Mantzoukas manages to make the best of everything and he keeps you watching even when the film itself is sputtering.
Unfortunately, while the film never quite goes kaput, it sputters a little too frequently.
We've seen the likes of Mantzoukas's Richard before in the persona of such cinematic road trip icons as John Candy, Chris Farley, and even Richard Farnsworth's endearing The Straight Story. To his credit, Mantzoukas manages to infuse Richard with uniqueness and his own individualized eccentricities, no small task in a rather tired, familiar sub-genre of film.
As is always true of the road trip flick, there's an abundance of emphasis on the to be expected unique, inspired, quirky and weird encounters along the way. Taissa Farmiga and Grace Gummer make particularly welcome appearances here, while a section involves the more than capable Ron Livingston overstays its welcome and lacks the rewards of Livingston's fine work in the festival's opening night Tully. There are a couple of other scenes that fall completely flat, while one can't help but get the feeling that the story itself completely ran out of steam in the final third of a completely reasonable 90-minute running time.
If only for the privilege of watching two underappreciated supporting players strut their stuff in leading roles, The Long Dumb Road is worth your time. There's some meatier stuff to be found here and both Mantzoukas and Revolori are up to the task of breathing new life into a familiar framework. Andrew Droz Palermo's lensing of the picturesque Southwest is inspired, while Keegan DeWitt's original music adds texture and vibrance to the uneven yet entertaining film.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic