Sunday, September 30, 2012

Like 'The Hitcher,' Only Completely Different: "The Hitchhiking Movie" (2009)



Trying to hitchhike from New York City to Los Angeles in a week, and blogging or writing a book about it, is a good idea. Trying to hitchhike from New York City to Los Angeles in a week, and making a documentary about it, is a better idea.

The plan is simple. Ryan Jeanes and his cameraman (and sometimes onscreen subject) Phillip Hullquist decide to try to hitchhike from New York City to Los Angeles in one week. Why one week? Because they have a one-way flight to catch from Los Angeles back home, and that is a perfect impetus to get there without too much sight seeing. They hope to depend on the kindness of strangers, taking just a little money along in case they need it. The entire film is their trip, and includes the highs of being picked up by the normal and good, and the lows of being stuck in one place for eight hours, or being picked up by some undangerous, but still odd, people.

The film must coast along on the suspense of whether the two will make their flight, and this does make it watchable. Jeanes has a nice charisma on camera, and looks completely normal, making getting a ride easier than others. The drivers themselves are an assorted lot, most memorable being the moody trucker Fred in the East, and the one-eyed Sammy in Kansas. The entire film doesn't take place from the back seat of someone's car, the duo have a couple of stops by police, and weird nights on a farm full of donkeys, and then again at a bar and former brothel.

The film makers did spend the perfect amount of time with each ride, even bringing the halfway point of their trip around the halfway point of the film. Sometimes, the camera cannot pick up much in complete darkness, but having just these two guys and a camera, instead of an omnipresent film crew following along in an RV certainly adds to the film. They often are not sure if they will make it, but the conflict is born from real worry and fear, not a need to manufacture some drama for the viewers (unlike most reality television shows).

While the film was entertaining, I wished they had not bleeped out some of the heavier expletives (especially during Sammy's drive). Also, my preview copy of the film had a ton of misspelled words, which drives a former English major like me nuts. Listening to one driver talk about their heroin habit, then seeing the word misspelled as "herion" twice onscreen, detracts from this woman's moment.

"The Hitchhiking Movie" is very different and very entertaining. Ryan keeping his promise to one driver is very touching (ask yourself: would these two have been picked up if they were black?), and I am interested to see what comes next. I hope it is as original and fresh as this. (* * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: The Hitchhiking Movie