Good road movies should, at the very least, focus more on the characters’ journey than the physical journey itself. The places visited and the situations encountered all contribute to a shift in perspective or force a character’s hand to show the film viewers what they’re made of and what they have/haven’t learnt or lost.
I’m a very selfish audience member because I always prefer films that benefit my emotional well-being, educate me or improve and expand my outlook on life. Arguably all films will do this, but in road movies it’s in an obvious kind of way and may as well start the credits with “Now what have we learnt today, kids?”
With this in mind, I give you my all time favourite road movies (so far)! I’ve purposefully not mentioned Y tu Mamá También (2002) because I’ve talked about it a lot before.
My Favourite Road Movies…
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
This is such a frickin’ good movie. The perfect indie and festival/awards darling, the eclectic characters each bring something to the table about what success means and what they are willing to sacrifice, but in a quirky and oddball sort of way that allows the audience to understand the pain and anguish without having gone through it ourselves.
Sheryl and Richard have two children and their daughter Olive gets a place to compete in a beauty pageant. The parents have neither the money nor the means but work it out somehow, just as all superhero parents do but it’s not without further complications and tragedies along the way and of course, the all valuable lessons.
Maybe we think we want something but don’t think we should change who we are in order to achieve it, maybe we try so desperately to achieve success only to be told we can’t have it. Maybe we achieved that success only to have it all come crashing down around us. What we learn about Little Miss Sunshine is that maybe we need to change our meaning of the word and just try and find happiness instead.
Definitely not the most inspirational road movie (in fact, it probably wouldn’t even make the top 50), Sightseers is directed by hot-right-now British director Ben Wheatley where two young lovers decide to go on a jaunt around the UK in their caravan and the fatal flaws get them into all sort of deadly situations. Definite Bonnie & Clyde stuff going on here, just to ruin it for you.
I just find it absolutely hilarious. If I think about people caravanning around the UK, I imagine newly retired people or working class, the kind of people that don’t like foreign things and going abroad and are perhaps quite ignorant to the world outside this tiny island we call home, BNP supporters if I’m being really narrow-minded. This pair are certainly weird as hell and definitely ignorant but still slightly off my expectations which keeps the film fresh. It’s also nice seeing my own home county of Cumbria on screen, despite it being one of the prettiest parts of he UK it seems to be completely overlooked again and again.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
The mother of all female road trip movies, there was no way by best pals Thelma and Louise wouldn’t get a look in. Two women, taking control of their own lives and their future right up until the bitter end. Always having the ‘man’ in both senses of the word holding them back and telling them what to do, they set off on a whim into the great unknown for better and for worse. I will always look upon these characters as survivors as when the movie ends… they’re still alive, aren’t they?
An average American road trip with a bit of a twist. Woody thinks he’s won a hec of a lot of money on a lottery and coaxes his son, David, into driving him to Nebraska to collect his winnings. Along the way, they stop off at Woody’s old town where his oldest son Ray lives and take a journey through their past. The film just sits oddly with me because it reminds me of the amount of judgement and bitterness the products of those from small towns can have, the judgement you can have if you decide to leave the bubble and you’re no longer a big fish in a small pond.
The 39 Steps (1935)
Not strictly a motor vehicle kind of road trip movie, but I couldn’t not mention one of my favourite Hitchcock films that he made when he was still a small-time British director. A movie of spies, double crosses and mystery, Richard finds himself tangled up in crime and has to simultaneously escape those wanting to capture him whilst also finding out the truth that will help him break free… The more Richard moves the more he learns. What exactly are the 39 Steps you ask? You’ll have to watch to find out.
Do you have any favourite road movies? Any on the list above?