The Long Dumb Road lives up to its title a bit too well. It’s a case of realism gone wrong, leading to a complete absence of any incentive whatsoever to care about either of the main characters, let alone get invested in the toxicity of their lives and friendship, thus destroying any real enjoyment the movie could possibly offer.
The leads are in no way to blame for this. Tony Revolori has exuded both charm in indies such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and Umrika, as well as smarm in blockbusters such as Spiderman: Homecoming. In The Long Dumb Road he plays Nathan, an upper middle class 19-year-old aspiring photographer so pretentious that on his drive to art school in LA he insists on renting trailers and spending time in dive bars to get a sense of “the real America.” But not only has this been done to death, the film has Revolori playing so understated that we never really get a sense if any kind of change has really occurred after the film ends.
The catalyst for his journey is his chance encounter with Richard, played with a certain kind of charm by Jason Mantzoukas, who was half of a fun married couple in Sleeping With Other People and a hilarious but an unstable cop in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. So he should be able to make the delusional, misogynistic jerk Richard turns out to be far more sympathetic. But it’s a difficult job when he’s not given a lot of opportunities to be much more than his worst qualities.
Their road trip together begins after Nathan’s car breaks down in a remote Southwest location and Richard fixes it shortly after he happens upon him after he quits his job and decides to head to Vegas. Nathan decides to offer Richard a ride, and the two become unlikely friends as they hit the road together and quietly talk about the lives they want to have at the very different crossroads they’ve both found themselves at.
The film attempts to quietly make a point about class, race, and how the choices we make throughout our lives can quietly break us down, especially if you were born in a poorer state. But Richard turns out to be so unlikable despite his growing closeness with Nathan that it’s hard to see just what point director Hannah Fidell (who also co-wrote the screenplay) is trying to make, besides indulging in a slew of stereotypes herself, since nearly every working class person comes off as some kind of stereotype (generally the kind that provides a menacing presence), while Nathan is allowed to make a far better impression.
Mantzoukas and Revolori have an easy kind of chemistry that can be enjoyable during the movie’s quieter moments, and Mantzoukas keeps us guessing at his ultimate designs for Nathan from the moment he appears. but the story ultimately goes far too easy on Nathan to have the impact it obviously thinks it does. Where is the subtler sexism so-called “nice guys” so often indulge in? Where are the politics of the suburbs, which are far subtler than Richard’s more obvious floundering, but ust as pernicious? Neither of these guys may have a clue what they’re doing, but it’s Nathan who gets the last word, even if Richard is the last one we see.