With the price of gas making the once bargain travel option of the American road trip an expensive vacation, here’s a vicarious way of hitting the road without leaving your living room or filling up your gas tank. Living Room Road Trips is now running on MSN. Here are a few travel options from the piece:
Going It Alone
You don’t have to pair up or pile in to hit the road. The solo journey can be just as illuminating. Richard Farnsworth is a kind of septuagenarian Easy Rider on a John Deere riding mower, putt-putting across two states to see his estranged brother in The Straight Story, a gently and sweetly offbeat odyssey from David Lynch. It’s the director’s only G-rated, family-friendly film, and as affectionate a tour of the American heartland as you’ll find, filled with oddball moments of weirdness and wonder and grounded by the withered wisdom and reflexive generosity of Farnsworth’s frail but firm old codger. Bill Murray takes a different kind of family trip in Broken Flowers. He’s an aging Don Juan trying to find the son he never knew he had by revisiting his old lovers. As in most road movies, he learns more about himself than the object of his search, and the film becomes a bittersweet tour of what might have been but for his inability to commit to anyone in his life. The journey to self is even more awkward in About Schmidt, with Jack Nicholson as a repressed widower who hits the road to stop his daughter from marrying a doofus and meets a cross-section of America along the way — and unerringly fails to connect with anyone.
We’re on the Road to Nowhere
Not all journeys end up where they’re supposed to … or anywhere at all. Two-Lane Blacktop, the great American existential road movie, ostensibly follows a cross-country contest between a pair of street racers (James Taylor and Dennis Wilson), who live out of their stripped-down, primer-gray Chevy, and a middle-aged drifter (Warren Oates) in a GTO, who spins a new story for every passenger he picks up. To call them gypsies is to romanticize their hollow lives; these guys are disconnected from everything except their ride as they drift through the back roads of America, living from bet to bet. These roads go everywhere and lead nowhere. They could be the children of Barry Newman, the “last free man on Earth,” in Vanishing Point, another car film as existential allegory. This one revels in the doomed romance of the loner renegade flouting conservative law and thumbing his nose at “the man” (all those state troopers determined to end his ride on the freedom road), and Newman is appropriately blank and taciturn as the world-weary hero, popping amphetamines as he speeds through that now awfully familiar Southwest desert landscape. What is it about the desert and existential crisis? A lot less weighty and far more droll is Stranger Than Paradise, Jim Jarmusch‘s lovingly photographed travelogue of urban blight, industrial blah and rural nothingness. “You know, it’s funny,” remarks an underwhelmed traveling buddy. “You come to someplace new and everything looks just the same.”
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