Review by Sean Boelman
Although Jake Johnson is perhaps primarily known for his goofier roles, he has shown on more than one occasion that he has the talent to pull off more complex characters. Trent O’Donnell’s Ride the Eagle gives him a chance to flex his dramatic muscles in a quaint but effective dramedy.
The film follows a slacker who is accidentally propelled on a mission of self-discovery when his estranged mother leaves him a conditional inheritance, demanding that he complete a series of tasks before getting it. And although this may sound like a high-concept comedy set-up rife with over-the-top hijinks, it’s actually the foundation of a compelling (if not too subtle) character study.
Clocking in at a brisk sub-ninety-minute runtime, the movie goes by quite nicely. The narrative is essentially a series of interactions that the protagonist has with a plethora of zany supporting characters. Some of these moments end up being hilarious, and others do a great job of being endearing.
What the script, written by O’Donnell and Johnson, has to say about grief is hardly anything new, and there is also an element of forgiveness to the film that is pretty moving, although it too lacks originality. Still, the somewhat insightful observations that the movie offers allow it to connect with viewers.
Admittedly, the protagonist’s arc is somewhat underwhelming in that it is almost entirely predictable and generic. However, like so many great dramedies like this, the film’s supporting characters are great. O’Donnell and Johnson take these archetypes and build upon them in a way that is interesting.
Of course, a lot of this has to do with the talent of the cast. Jake Johnson is definitely good in his role, but it is everyone else who really shines. Susan Sarandon, D’Arcy Carden, and J.K. Simmons are all excellent as the people who the protagonist encounters along his journey to acceptance.
O’Donnell could have done more with his movie given the rustic, woodsy setting, but the simple approach here works. A majority of the film is composed of back-and-forth scenes between two actors, and the editing does a good job of accentuating the natural rhythm in these sharply-written dialogues.
Ride the Eagle is about as charming as one can expect from an indie dramedy such as this. A strong cast and lean and crisp writing make it a solid watch even though it isn’t the most original movie in the genre.
Ride the Eagle is now in theaters and on VOD.