It’s tough for me to articulate how important this movie was for me: My senior year of high school, just when I was starting to get into film, it was the first “indie sensation” I got to experience firsthand and spread the gospel for. I had memorized significant portions of the screenplay after I watched it about 10 times on DVD over the next couple years.
So I was just a hair nervous to revisit it for the first time in maybe a decade. My fears were unfounded. This movie is a goddamn delight, with one of the best dramedy scripts I can recall encountering.
Every character is memorably written and terrifically acted (if Toni Colette’s character is a bit thinner than the rest, the sheer presence of Colette makes up for it). And the story pulls that difficult trick of both clearly defining a whole ensemble, but also letting each one of them grow in meaningful ways.
The direction is good but unobtrusive; it’s easy to imagine an ambitious director adding some flash, but I think it would have distracted from the screenplay and acting.
I think my favorite technical aspect of the film is everything with the yellow VW Bus — the striking visual of the entire family pushing the broken down bus serving as an effective metaphor. The hilarious broken horn is some great audio design, too.
My biggest gripe in the script is that the Arkin’s foul-mouthed grampa is a bit too broad in the film’s first half. It’s also odd, perhaps intentional, that the suicidal uncle is nowhere near the bleakest character here.
The film’s soundtrack is another downside, doing the bland indie rock thing that is the calling card of movies far more twee than this.
But on the whole, it remains one of my favorite and most beloved movies from my young adulthood. “Do what you love, and fuck the rest.”
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100
Exceptionally Good (7/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.