Review by Sean Boelman
Perhaps in an attempt to capture what filmmaker Debra Granik has done so well, there has been a recent uptick in the amount of films in the “youth fending for themselves in adulthood” genre. Ani Simon-Kennedy’s The Short History of the Long Road is the latest in that trend, and while it has some great moments, they don’t quite come together into a satisfying whole.
The movie follows a teenager who, after living a life with her father on the road, finds herself on her own, looking for a mother she has never known and encountering a benevolent mechanic and a well-meaning churchgoer along the way. It’s rather predictable as a whole, and unfortunately, it doesn’t have the tension to make up for it.
What keeps this film from working as well as other movies in the genre is that it is less character-driven and more focused on external conflict. The more compelling moments come from when the protagonist is given the chance to meditate on her situation, especially in relation to her grief, but these scenes are disappointingly few in number.
The pacing is also extremely uneven. At a little over an hour and a half long, there’s a whole lot happening here and not enough time for it all, so everything feels extremely rushed. The protagonist’s bout with a foster family is particularly underwhelming. Its purpose in the story is understandable but is later achieved better by other storylines.
Furthermore, Simon-Kennedy can’t seem to figure out exactly what she wants to say with her film. She obviously has a lot to say, and it will be exciting to see what she does with her future work, but again, it boils down to trying to do too much. Messages about grief, parenthood, finding oneself on the road, and the true meaning of family are all here but aren’t all fully-developed.
That said, the cast is phenomenal. Sabrina Carpenter does a good job in her leading role, with only a few scenes that feel forced (although most of the blame there can be placed on the dialogue). In the supporting cast, Danny Trejo is the biggest standout with a career-best performance, although Steven Ogg and Maggie Siff give memorable turns as well.
As is the case with any good road movie, the movie is also very impressive on a visual level thanks to great cinematography by Cailin Yatsko. The film’s Western settings (coupled with the old-school van that serves as much of the character’s transportation) give it a much-welcome rustic feel that is quite lovable.
The Short History of the Long Road has a lot of charm but it admittedly pales in comparison to some of the other recent hits of the genre. Still, the performances alone make this movie more than worth the journey.
The Short History of the Long Road hits VOD on June 16.