We take a look at the best that the cinematic open road has offered up since the turn of the millennium
When it comes to road trip movies, there are a handful of classic films that have become so synonymous with the genre - Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider for example, or the brilliant Thelma & Louise – that for a while, to attempt to tackle it seemed almost pointless. The cinematic open road still has plenty left to offer though, as Andrea Arnold has just proven with her beautiful new film American Honey. With a soundtrack as sprawling and eclectic as the film itself, American Honey crawls its way across middle America over the course of 2 hours and 43 minutes. In the hands of a less skilful director than Andrea Arnold, that running time might have been gruelling. Instead, it allows the film to simmer into something intoxicating.
Its rowdy ensemble cast, most of whom are unknown and untrained actors, blaze from town to town in a crowded mini-van selling magazine subscriptions. Spend enough time in their company (and the intimate cinematography doesn’t give you much choice in the matter) and their rough edges wear off, their youth-stricken bravado giving way to something with real heart. The soul of this film, though, is its lead Sasha Lane, who Arnold discovered partying on a beach during Spring Break. Like Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue Is The Warmest Colour, who was also unknown when she was cast in her breakout role, Lane’s natural magnetism makes for utterly compelling viewing (read her Dazed cover story here). As a strangely welcome curveball in a field of unknowns, Shia Labeouf is impressive too.
Its brilliance got us thinking about other modern movies that focus on sprawling journeys. From 2015’s Grandma, with a tiny budget that meant Lily Tomlin’s own car was recruited for her character to drive, to Mad Max: Fury Road, a box office hit with genuine cult appeal, there are plenty of post-millennial films putting new and exciting spins on a genre that could so easily have spluttered to a halt. Here are some of the 21st century’s best.
As far as distance travelled is concerned, Grandma pales in comparison to the rest of the films on this list - but distance alone does not a road movie make. The film sees Lily Tomlin’s acerbic poet Elle travel around her LA neighbourhood visiting everyone she knows, and everyone she no longer does, in a bid to find the money for her granddaughter’s abortion. She’s just split from her much younger girlfriend, and the shards of the break-up pierce through the film’s central narrative. In her first time in the driver’s seat of a film (and that seat is her very own 1955 Dodge Royal) in 27 years, Lily Tomlin plays her character with warmth, wit and a whole load of tough love.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
There’s hardly any dialogue in Mad Max: Fury Road – the script is as sparse as the post-apocalyptic landscape in which the film’s set – but for Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, actions speak far louder. Tom Hardy’s Mad Max might be the title character, but it’s Furiosa who holds the reins in this innovative revival of the original franchise. It has some of the most visually stunning car chases in modern cinema, and there’s just a hint of camp about it too. For no particular reason, a masked man strapped to the front of an 18-wheeler plays a flame-throwing, double-necked guitar throughout some of the exhilarating chase scenes.
Nearly a decade ago, amidst a sea of offensive and damaging movie representations of trans people, Transamerica was a beacon of hope. The film stars Felicity Huffman as Bree Osbourne, a transgender woman reluctantly winding her way across America in a cheap second-hand car with the troublesome teenage son she never knew existed. The film has no qualms pushing its narrative into wildly uncomfortable territory, but it’s also sensitive, nuanced and occasionally laugh out loud funny.
Convinced he’s won a million dollars in a sweepstake, thanks to a letter that seems to all but him to be an obvious scam, Bruce Dern’s Woody decides to take the 750-mile trip – driven by his reluctant son – from Montana to Nebraska to claim his winnings. Shot in black and white and with an unromantic lens on the vast landscape through which they drive, there’s a quiet melancholy coursing through Nebraska’s veins. There’s a great deal of warmth and wit there too though – thanks in no small part to the delightful June Squibb as Woody’s no-nonsense wife.
Surely the first time the M6 motorway between Birmingham and London has been considered a suitably cinematic setting for a single shot, let alone an entire film, but Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography works had to excavate glimpses of beauty from this remarkably unglamorous stretch of road. Taking place over one the course of one night time car journey, Locke sees Tom Hardy – the only speaking role in the film whose face we see – as a construction foreman driving south to oversee a large concrete pour. On the face of it, it’s perhaps the least appealing premise in movie history, and yet the quietly devastating drama that unfolds over the film’s modest 84 minutes make for an unexpectedly gripping watch.