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You’ll enjoy the ride with ‘Drunk Bus’

May 24, 2021
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Stories about finding one’s way are always going to be appealing because they’re nigh-universal in their relatability. Who among us hasn’t gone through a period where they felt stuck and didn’t know what to do going forward? We’ve all been there.

Now, that doesn’t mean that these stories are always GOOD. If they get too navel-gazey, they can often disappear up their own … behinds … in an insufferable ouroboros of fart-sniffing pretension. If they stay on the surface, they lack insight and ultimately feel pointless.

But when they strike the right balance, engage with honesty and humor and (perhaps most importantly) don’t take themselves too seriously, you wind up with some real gems.

“Drunk Bus” is one such gem.

Directed by John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke from a script by Chris Molinaro, it’s the story of a young man stuck in neutral, driving the nightly bus loop surrounding the college campus from which he graduated a few years earlier. It’s the tale of a late bloomer, one struggling to escape the ties that bind him to the past even as he hesitates to engage with the future.

It’s also a story of unexpected friendship, wherein a bold and bright free spirit enters the picture and pushes our hero to find forward motion, though that push is not without its own issues. But really, deep down, it’s about those times in our lives when we don’t necessarily know what we want, yet feel confident that what we have isn’t it.

Michael (Charlie Tahan, TV’s “Ozark”) is in a rut. He’s living in the Ohio town where he went to college, driving a bus around campus each night and picking up the various and sundry hipsters and drunk students as they make their way around town. He’s got a shady weirdo named Josh (Zach Cherry, TV’s “Duncanville”) as a roommate and a dispatcher boss (Will Forte, “Scoob!”) who wants to make him his protégé. Meanwhile, he has abandoned his photojournalistic ambitions and is basically sleepwalking through the world because he’s still not over the departure of and breakup with his long-term girlfriend.

But when an incident leads to Michael getting assaulted while on the job, his whole world is upended, courtesy of Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa, “Song to Song”). Pineapple is a massive Samoan, sporting face tattoos and piercings; he’s been hired by the bus company to serve as security for Michael on his route.

In the weeks that follow, Michael and Pineapple grow closer. We spend time with some of the regulars – friendly students Kat (Kara Hayward, “The Social Dilemma”) and Justin (Tonatiuh, “Shoplifters of the World”) and bad-attitude street weirdo F.U. Bob (Martin Pfefferkorn, “Small Time”) – and watch as Michael grapples with his situation. His girlfriend is coming back to town and wants to see him. Does he want to see her? Should he move on? CAN he move on?

And all the while, Pineapple is there with him, trying to steer Michael toward making a decision – any decision – about what might happen next. Stagnation has made Michael somewhat fearful, but with someone like Pineapple by his side, it’s a little easier to not be scared.

That’s pretty much it. The truth is that not a lot actually happens in “Drunk Bus” – and that’s by design. By keeping things small and insular, following Michael from his cruddy apartment to the dingy bus and back, the focus on the young man’s stagnation is locked in. He’s in a time loop. Granted, not a full-on “Groundhog Day” time loop, but one in which we’re given a glimpse at just how repetitive his life has become.

The disruption of that repetition comes in the form of Pineapple, an unexpected energy that alters the dynamic. Michael continues along the same loop, but things are changing – even the familiar is tinged with a newness that slowly, gradually drags him out of the low-grade fog in which he’s been drifting. That sense of opening and rediscovery is a huge part of why this film works; it captures what it feels like to, if not break out of a cycle, at least want to.

(Also, it’s worth noting that the filmmakers have FOR SURE spent some time on a college campus’s drunk bus. Anyone who has had that experience will see a lot of things that ring very true, from the entitled arrogance of some passengers to the dismissive disdain of others, all of it powered by cheap alcohol and bad decisions. Talk about your verisimilitude.)

“Drunk Bus” also manages to defy expectations. It’s the kind of film that makes you think you know how it’s going to go, only to zig and/or zag. Not blatantly or randomly – every A-to-B story point makes sense in context – but with purpose. It’s nice to be surprised.

Tahan is great as Michael. It’s tough to make someone so solipsistic likeable, but you can’t help but root for him. He really captures the right sad sack energy necessary for this character – you simultaneously want to give him a hug and a kick in the ass. Happily, that’s basically what Pineapple Tangaroa is here for. He’s precisely the sort of oversized weirdo that you need here, broad and boisterous. The buddy comedy vibe is strong and the two have great chemistry.

The supporting cast runs deep. Forte’s mostly here in voice form, but he’s great; you can always count on him to go hard, regardless of the project. Hayward is charming as the girl who may or may not be into Michael. And then you have the various college town characters. Pfefferkorn does good work as F.U. Bob, finding his way despite only speaking the same two words over and over (bet you can guess what they are). Cherry is one brand of sleazy weirdo you’ll find on the fringes of any campus; Dave Hill gives us another as a contraband dealing hardcore Devo fan.

“Drunk Bus” is a funny, poignant story of what it means to move on from the various toxicities of our past. The process of growing up is different for everyone, but there are certain universalities to the experience. There’s a relatability to it all that will ring true to anyone who has ever found themselves in a rut and looking to get unstuck.

[4.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 24 May 2021 15:42

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