The silver screen is an ideal place place to enjoy the wide open road. As Americana rolls by — rock outcroppings, tumbleweeds, giant rubber band balls — you sit comfortable, air-conditioned, with clearly-marked bathrooms. Hours on end in a car are artfully edited into two hours of landscape and plot points.
The road trip genre of film has been honed over years of cinema classics that, much like their subject matter, guarantee the elusive fun-for-the-whole-family experience. Road trips, by reality or by reel, unfortunately, often receive mixed reviews. But with each passing year, families and production companies alike continue to strap in, hopeful that an unknown combination of hearth and humor lies just beyond the horizon line.
Among the variety of choices emerges a crop of classics: “Easy Rider,” “Rain Man,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and who can forget Britney Spears’ most notable role, “Crossroads” — all classics, every last one of them.
Aside from these indisputable classics, when I reflect, gazing out a rain-tapped window, on my own favorite films on a journey of mileage and discovery, I have noticed a pattern, perhaps a mirage: men are frequently disgruntled, and I am often amused. This is also known as the title of my forthcoming memoir.
Does their trite refusal to ask directions drive a plot home better than stereotypes of female delegation? Can you picture Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda pulling out a map? No, please don’t make me.
The road trip film brings people together through infinitely creative circumstances and a variety of vehicles. You may have been outraged that the beyond-a-classic film — it’s basically the Shakespeare of buddy comedy — “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” was missing from my aforementioned list. This is because “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” reigns under the roadtrip subgenre of men taking on the world together and one of them not being so happy about the situation — a working title.
John Candy and Steve Martin star in this 1987 film from director John Hughes, and they are simply divine as they prove once and for all that no one should ever leave their homes from mid-November to … let’s say August to be safe. If you have ever traveled home during the holiday season or have ever sat next to another human on public transportation, this movie has a cringeworthy moment for you to watch with the pure pleasure that it’s not you. Steve Martin plays the straight man — need I say more?
Another movie that’s definitely required watching in the working-title subgenre I may have created while writing this is 1988’s “Midnight Run” by director Martin Brest. Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin — you may know him as the nemesis of Beethoven the dog — are a delightful dream as they, a good-hearted bounty hunter and a better accountant, respectively, run from corrupt law enforcement across the country. To illustrate how perfectly these two work together on screen, Grodin was chosen for the role of Jonathan Mardukas (“the Duke”) over the likes of comedy gold, Robin Williams, and actual gold, Cher.
Grodin comes off convincingly unflapped while De Niro, honest and warm, becomes a newly bankable Hollywood star. This makes for a seriously funny and validating drive to the hard truth.
Even with all the F-bombs De Niro and Grodin deal out — and they deal them out repeatedly — across the pond, another couple of blokes are arguably even more peeved.
Actor-comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, less an odd couple than verbal sparring partners, embark on a road trip across England in “The Trip,” a 2010 dark comedy by director Michael Winterbottom. The friends eat their way through fine dining, existential jokes and bloody impressive Michael Caine impersonations.
Why it is that I find men unable to figure out their problems in open terrain so entertaining is something I try not to question in depth — it’s too funny. I don’t want to see beyond that horizon.