Many viewers might be put off by the first third of Bryan Reisberg’s Big Significant Things, a film about an indecisive twenty-something named Craig Harrison (Harry Lloyd) who lies to his girlfriend, skips town, and goes on a road trip across America. Seemingly mired in mumblecore territory, the film charts Craig’s off-beat journey from road-side attraction to road-side attraction: the world’s biggest rocking chair, a giant wooden lady with a restaurant in her skirt, the world’s biggest frying pan (“There are six of these, you know”). It doesn’t take a genius to decode the symbolism at work here: the road-side attractions and his attempts to “conquer” them by reducing them to pocket-sized photographs and souvenirs represent Craig’s fear of the giant issues in his life and his inability to come to terms with them. Many dry, sensible chuckles are had from his nervous antics—vomiting after trying chewing tobacco for the first time, ingratiating himself into a group of teenagers via a six-pack, asking locals if they actually fill the “world’s largest cedar bucket” with anything.
But after the first third, the film’s true colors become apparent. Big Significant Things isn’t a comedy, it’s a tragedy about loneliness wearing the skin of a comedy. In this regard, the film reminded me of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003): both are about disaffected men in foreign lands—Bill Murray in Japan, Craig in the American South—who seek temporary solace in women other than their significant others. Murray had Scarlett Johansson, Craig has Ella (Krista Kosonen), a young Finnish woman who, for reasons of her own, has transplanted herself 10,000 miles away from home. But unlike with Murray, Craig leaves his pseudo-liaison with Ella feeling even more lost and confused.
Big Significant Things doesn’t pretend to have any answers concerning Craig’s predicament. It’s much more interested in his increasingly futile attempts to cope with his emotions. On some level, that’s admirable. But on another, the film doesn’t have the stylistic or directorial strength to keep itself from feeling directionless. Craig’s middle-class ennui seems cheapened by the film’s odd humor. It’s obviously taking numerous cues from the American New Wave, particularly films like Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970) and Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). But even with their open endings, these films felt complete. Big Significant Things feels unfinished, both in its story and in its thematic underpinnings.