The road trip is quintessentially American, but it’s not always a lark. In his debut feature, Along the Roadside, writer/director Zoran Lisinac paints two starkly different road trips in one. Nena (Angelina Häntsch), a carefree German, has flown to California to see her favorite band, Blonde Priest, perform live. Far less carefree is Varnie (Iman Crosson), a broke marketer who has just learned his girlfriend is pregnant. After a chance encounter, Varnie offers to drive Nena as far as Los Angeles, and they hit the road together. Cliches aside, Along the Roadside boasts a tight screenplay that intertwines narrative and original music to great success.

Lisinac’s set-up is pleasantly brief, providing just enough information about the two leads before unleashing them on each other and the Californian highway. Nena’s childlike exuberance for Blonde Priest connects the audience with the music that soundtracks the entire journey and provides thematic queues. In contrast, Varnie’s penchant for listening to existentialist French poetry in his car foreshadows a diverting conflict of personalities. But once the action is restricted to Varnie’s BMW convertible, Along the Roadside tackles the oft-bungled one “room” setting and passes with a reasonable balance between dialogue and obligatory driving montages. Other than a few segues – including a secondhand shop, a diner and a visit to Uncle Cliff (Rhomeyn Johnson) – Nena and Varnie’s mobile interactions carry the entire film. And while there is significant emphasis on the culture clash between the two, it thankfully all feels quite natural.

Although filmed and paraded on the festival circuit back in 2013, Along the Roadside is only now receiving its official release. The production itself shows some promising skill from Lisinac. He also made the conscious decision to use new-to-film actors as much as possible. The thought may have been to mine raw talent or somesuch platitude, but whatever it was, it worked. Angelina Häntsch, in spite of her character’s potentially annoying level of wonderment, steals the film in her first English-language role. Along the Roadside also falls into the growing category of YouTuber films, with Crosson being more well-known for his impressions of President Obama as Alphacat on Youtube and Vine. Other YouTubers pop up throughout the film, especially in the music festival scenes.

Culture clash motif aside, Along the Roadside touches on themes of responsibility (not least with Varnie’s situation), racism, modern romance and a maturing Generation Y. It seems a lot to cover yet Lisinac makes easy work of the nature of twentysomething life. As Along the Roadside would have it, life involves running away from obligations toward that which makes you happiest. And certainly the idea of individual happiness is meant to be invoked by the fact that no one other than Nena has ever heard of her beloved Blonde Priest. Lisinac had lofty intentions for the regular Blonde Priest intervals (music by Cole Bonner) to serve as a pseudo Greek chorus for the proceedings. Instead, the connections between lyrics and events do little more than the average musical interlude in any film, albeit with some standout songs.

Lisinac’s script struggles most when not focused solely on the escapades of Nena and Varnie. In truth, the film is about 30 minutes too long, but that could have been avoided if Nena and Varnie hadn’t ventured with a Serbian pimp (Lazar Ristovski) to a drug den run by Michael Madsen. That incomprehensible scene simply prolongs the end of the journey unnecessarily. And once the end does come, Lisinac’s duo part ways in a surprisingly abrupt and icy way but one that reinforces the sobering truth that, despite their temporary camaraderie, their worlds truly don’t intersect.

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One Comment

  1. Dorris

    March 26, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    Saw this film on VOD. Weird. I loved it.


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