Saturday, December 19, 2009
THE OPEN ROAD
At the HIFF 2008 Breakthrough Performers' Panel
Photo by Eric Roffman
The Open Road [TOR] is (surprise, surpise) a road movie, but also a sweet and bittersweet love story, with a complex father-son relationship at its center. It's a comedy and a drama. You've probably never heard of this film, because it hardly had any theatrical distribution; but it's well worth checking out.
The writer/director is a relative newcomer, Michael Meredith, [MM] who worked before with Wim Wenders (who acted as executive producer).
It has a stellar cast... with an exuberant performance by Jeff Bridges, an affecting performance by Justin Timberlake, and an adorable performance by Kate Mara.
(Note, by the way, that Jeff Bridges is currently being mentioned as an Oscar contender for his work in another film this year, Crazy Heart.)
The director and female lead both have a strong sports heritage: Kate Mara, a Breakthrough Performer at The Hamptons Film Festival [HIFF] in 2008, comes from a family of football owners (great granddaughter of Art Rooney, founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Timothy Mara, founder of the NY Giants). Michael Meredith is the son of football legend Don Meredith (Dallas Cowboys). Appropriately, the main character, Kyle Garrett, played by Bridges, is a sports legend (baseball in this case). But it's not a movie about sports -- familiarity with the milieu of sports stars enriches the ambiance, but is not the subject of the movie. The movie is about a difficult family relationship and a difficult romance.
Justin Timberlake, of course, is well known as a singer, but he is also a fine actor, delivering sensitive performances in numerous films, and he hits just the right notes here.
One mark of a special film is the depth of portrayals of the minor characters. Here, Lyle Lovett, Harry Dean Stanton, Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson, and others all make important contributions in supporting roles.
In spinning this tale, though Bridges plays his character with full-out style, MM maintains a level of reality, both in the complications and the resolutions, that makes it much more grounded -- and therefore much more interesting -- than most family stories or romantic films.
Anyone searching for a love story different from the standard Hollywood formula romance should check out this film.
Meredith (I've had some brief opportunities to chat with him) is an earnest and nice guy. This is his second film; earlier, he made Three Days Of Rain [TDOR], which just happened to be on TV last night. (See it next on Showtime: Tue Dec 22 8:45 AM).
In Cleveland, during a Jazz festival and rainstorm, the bluesy score and lousy weather set the tone for a morose and downbeat, interesting and atmospheric film. In TDOR, as in The Open Road, MM investigates father-son relationships. One father, played by Peter Falk is, like Bridges in TOR, an idiosyncratic and difficult dad. (Michael's own dad, Don Meredith, is in the film and does a fine turn as a father who's recently lost a son.)
Michael Meredith is a writer/director to watch as he navigates his next film projects. He has an interesting sensibility, a talent for pulling in great actors who deliver stylish performances, a sense of sadness as well as a sense of humor, and an original way of telling stories.