Life is a journey.
And that’s particularly true in the movies, where journeys of one kind or another have had metaphorical meaning for over a century.
Think of how many of your favorite movies fall into this category.
The latest example is the independent film, The Short History of the Long Road.
It centers around a teenage girl named Nola, played by Sabrina Carpenter. Behind her pretty face is a free-spirited young woman who might have been called a hippie back in the 1960s.
She is the home-schooled, only daughter of an equally free spirited dad who oozes a laid-back kind of wisdom and worldliness that may be on the edge of extinction.
The beginning of the film finds them being evicted from their home and its in-ground swimming pool.
They load up their 1984 refurbished RV and hit the road for parts unknown.
While most people in this predicament might be terrified, Dad points out to Nola that while everybody else out there might have their driveways, backyards and pools, the two of them have their freedom.
In a lot of ways, they are modern-day gypsies.
The spirit of adventure harkens back to movies of the Sixties.
Easy Rider comes to mind. Instead of two cool young dudes on their tricked-out choppers on a journey to Mardi Gras, we have a father and daughter on an uncharted trip that may lead Nola to her namesake city of New Orleans.
It’s an easy-going road trip through scenic, sun-filled, Southwestern landscapes until tragedy unexpectedly changes everything, and Nola finds herself on her own, fending for herself.
Luckily, Dad has raised her to be self-confident and self-sufficient and she finds herself on a mission to discover the mother she never knew, hoping that the woman is still alive out there somewhere.
As with so many journeys, the road can steer you in a direction you never planned to take.
In Nola’s case, it’s the engine failure that leads her to an auto repair shop owned and operated by Miguel (played by Danny Trejo). Low on cash, she suggests working for him as payment for the $1650 worth of repairs.
As expected, a bond of friendship slowly develops. While you think you know where all this will lead, The Short History of the Long Road, steers you elsewhere.
It’s a movie that works against predictability.
In doing that, it keeps you guessing and at the same time keeps you iinvolved throughout. Like Nola, you have a hard time figuring out where it’s all going.
And that includes her relationships with Miguel, her long-lost mother and a young woman looking for escape from an abusive father.
Like life, journeys don’t always go as planned. It’s the lack of a plan that is at the heart of the movie.
The lesson here seems to be that sometimes, you just do what you can and take your best shot.
One of the shortcomings of the screenplay is the perplexing lack of physical direction. We never quite know where Nola is or where she’s going.
Granted, she doesn’t either, but the story might have benefited by more detail.
The same might be said about the relationships between the characters.
There’s a spottiness to the story that is sometimes puzzling. It’s a long, winding road with a destination that comes as a bit of a surprise.
Along the way, there are looming questions about how Nola is able to embark on this odyssey of self-discovery with limited cash, no credit cards, no cell phone or portable GPS. She seems to exist in some strange time warp.
There are things about this movie that don’t seem to make a lot of sense.
But what makes the experience worthwhile and worth watching is Sabrina Carpenter who makes Nola come to life with layers of complexity.
She has a screen presence reminiscent of Jean Seberg or Ellen Page.
Her face exudes freshness and innocence and vulnerability. But beneath it all is the resolve and strength of someone older than her years.
Throughout the history of movies, one truism is that it’s all about faces.
That was true about the silent movies and is still true today. The greatest actors and actresses were the ones who we simply can’t resist watching.
Sabrina Carpenter brings that quality to this movie.
Her spirit—Nola’s spirit—is the very essence of The Short History of the Long Road. She makes it memorable.
'The Short History of the Long Road' is available on demand to stream or download.