Monday, October 19, 2009


And now, a review of a small scale but largely likable documentary you may not have heard of but is well worth seeking out:

THE HITCHHIKING MOVIE (Dir. Phillip Hullquist, 2009)

The 1969 counter culture smash EASY RIDER had this memorable tagline: "A man went looking for America. And couldn't find it anywhere..." Almost 40 years later, in 2007, a couple of guys go looking for the same thing, albeit without motorcycles, a huge nest-egg of cocaine, and a hippie crew following them, and appear to find the America they want to find everywhere.

With the goal of hitchhiking from New York to Los Angeles in less than one week, Ryan Jeanes credited as "The Hitchhiker" sticks his thumb out and director Phillip Hullquist holds the camera (though both alternate these roles throughout the film) as they set out to show that the heartland of the U.S.A. isn't completely made up of murderers, rapists and thieves.

Jeanes comes off smarmy at first as he flirts with on-the-street interviewees about the dangers of hitchhiking coast to coast, but as we follow him down the road his eager approach to strangers of all kinds is both endearingly wide-eyed and tongue in cheek. He explains that their rule is that they can't spend any of their own money on food or transportation so they have a daily tally of what folks donate.

Their rides include a New Jersey woman who offers up front that she's a recovering addict, a part Seminole trucker with whom they smoke a peace pipe in a park off camera, a elderly black couple who give them a lift in exchange for future help specified to another random African American (get it? Pay it forward), a psychiatrist who lectures them about potassium, and a rowdy redneck named Randy who lost an eye in a bar fight. Even a police officer they encounter in the middle of the night is described by Jeane as an "ultra cool cop".

There are some bouts with negativity and frustration in the long stretches where nobody stops yet Jeane keeps his chin up and we feel his passion as he pep talks Hullquist into plodding onward. They rationalize the revision of their rules regarding money, and the tally for that matter isn't taken very seriously, but that on-the-fly nature is what gives this project its charm.

Some unnecessary components in this material are the cartoon thought bubbles and jolting music cues with pause break statistics or fun facts; they're too much like base reality TV shows like Blind Date with its worn-out Pop-up Video derived aesthetics. Also there are some annoying misspellings in the subtitles. There is much evidence here that these guys are smarter and funnier than the jokey framing suggests, so with hope future projects will be a bit more polished.

"Was kindness still alive in America?" Jeane asks at the outset and except for the many motorists that pass them by, the answer is a resounding yes. Over 20 different people give the documentary duo rides across the country and many of them are friendly accommodating folks who even speak at length about helping others.

Now, we all know that this plan could've gone so wrong in so many dark disgusting ways as it has gone for so many innocent people who've made likewise journeys across this land, but by luck or by chance, or whatever uncynical circumstance Hillquist and Jeane give us a scrappy shaky cam America that I'd sure like to believe in.

More later...

1 comment:

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