January 4, 2011

Road Trip Philosophy - My Top 5 Movies about Road Trips

It's the first post of the new year (when we can finally drop this "two thousand and..." nonsense and just start saying twenty eleven), so I thought I'd offer some insight into one of my favorite things in the world - movies. Yes, I am absolutely obsessed with movies. My friends and family often marvel at my ability to know random bits of useless film trivia, to quote lines from most of the movies I have seen, and even the sheer number of movies I seem to have found time to watch in my short time on this earth. Everyone has their passions and films just happen to be one of mine. It seems fitting to begin this new year (and the third year of The Yellow Brick Road Trip), with a list of my favorite five movies about road trips.

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold." Has there ever been a greater or more outrageous opening line to a film? Hunter S. Thompson's book that served as the foundation for the film is one of the greatest written works of that time, serving to encapsulate the "high water mark" of a generation. Johnny Depp and Bencio Del Toro are incredible as they portray an eccentric journalist and his insane lawyer on a drug-fueled road trip to Las Vegas. The sheer visual spectacle of their escapades is captivating and the sense of unbridled adventure and insanity always make me want to jump into a convertible and hit the open desert road.

2. Little Miss Sunshine

All families are a little dysfunctional, but Little Miss Sunshine shows what happens when you put all that dysfunction into one van and send it hurtling towards California. I love each character for their own unique foibles - the unsuccessful motivational speaker father, the silent brother with a dream, the suicidal intellectual uncle, the heroin-using and sex-crazed grandfather, and above all the little girl with glasses and a dream. This film makes every family road trip I've been on seem like a five-star luxury retreat. But it also encapsulates the true meaning of a family road trip - it's not where you're going, it's spending time with your family along the way. And everything that goes wrong is just one more opportunity to bring you closer to the people you are stuck with.

3. Easy Rider

It is impossible for me to write about road trip films and not mention Easy Rider. Probably because I don't believe there has been a more culturally significant film about the free spirit of the open road. It is certainly controversial for its use of real drugs, but the epic story of two men searching the Southwest and South for true freedom captures the longing escape that can only be found on a deserted highway. When I first saw this film in high school, I don't think I really understood it. I latched on to the need to be untethered and see country, just as I did when I first read "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac. But as I have gotten older and continued to re-watch the film, I now feel as though Fonda and Hopper are conveying some deep truth. There is a desperate longing to the two lone bikers on the road. Some furious need to be free that burns within every soul and propels us forward to tragedy. This film always fans that sad little flame within me and by the time it is over, I am always looking at a map for some new far-flung destination in a place I have never been.

4. Tommy Boy

I did not go a day in middle school without hearing someone quote "Tommy Boy." This is without a doubt the funniest road trip movie I have ever seen and has the best, most quotable dialogue. The immature and accident-prone Chris Farley has incredible comedic timing as he delivers his enduring one liners ("Do you know where the weight room is?") and David Spade is the ultimate uptight straight man with a razor sharp tongue trying desperately to survive their misadventures ("Let's say the average person uses ten percent of their brain. How much do you use? One and a half percent. The rest is clogged with malted hops and bong resin"). In summarizing my love for "Tommy Boy" I suppose there is only one thing left to say: "Fat guy in a little coat."

5. Wristcutters: A Love Story

This movie was first recommended to me by my friend Kat, and I'll be honest and say I hesitated a long time before watching it. As much as I have a morbid sense of humor, I simply couldn't imagine a film about suicidal people being funny and heartwarming. Luckily, I recognized that Kat is often much smarter than me and rented this movie because it is funny, heartwarming, inspiring, and so much more. It is a film about second chances and finding the answers you didn't even know you were looking for on the road. After committing suicide, a man finds him stuck in an afterlife purgatory. He hits the road with a rock musician who committed suicide on stage and a girl who insists she is in the wrong place in search of the his old girlfriend, who has learned in also in purgatory after killing herself. Sounds depressing, I know, but this movie offers truth and philosophy about life and the road in a way I have never seen. Whether it is that anything lost under the passenger seat is gone for good or what you have is always better than what you are looking for, this is an enlightening film that will make you think even as it warms your heart.


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