Finally, A Road Trip Movie With Smarts


Starring: Andrew Dickler, Ben York Jones

By Robert Patrick

There aren’t any allusions to wine aficiandos. Zach Galiafanakis doesn’t miff Mike Tyson. No one drinks a fourth of Absinthe and makes out with their sister. No, this isn’t “Sideways”, “The Hangover” or “Eurotrip”. In the aforementioned road comedies everything is Murphy’s law, in the most bombastic way possible, and if a spud missile blew up a fraternity house it would seem like another day at the office. “Douchebag” isn’t a comic-strip, doesn’t pretend to house a dormant tiger, or even visit a nude beach. With all of that said, this independent film is funny in a way that you can relate to. If you had a road-trip, much of what happens here is plausible, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. The humor is sardonic and biting, the affection is believable, and the driving is realistic (hey, man, you just went through a stop sign without noticing).

“Douchebag” is a daffy-title, a surefire way to evoke sophomoric chuckles and ten-year-old Cheshire grins. But the movie is so fluent in maturity that when the hilarity in the dialogue sprouts up, it feels that much more effective. The movie was made on a budget that could barely fix the transmission of a car, but director Drake Doremus’ opus is more meaningful and interesting than most flat tires that studios are putting out. The shaky camerawork may annoy some, but I see it as a plucky and personified way to gaze upon this world. Tripods would make it feel stilted, unaffected. There is a buoyancy to this world that the camera replicates with its swinging movements.

The movie centers on a couple, before their marriage, named Sam (Andrew Dickler) and Steph (Marguerite Moreau).  Sam’s face is tethered to a beard so large, with so much furry plumage, that it belongs on the front of a Kansas album cover. And his head is scattered with tufts of hair, bulbs of shrubbery. Sam’s wily appearance, coupled with his narrow frame, makes him a candidate for Greenpeace and organic farming – he is, in fact, seen in serene autopilot as he gardens in the film. Sam’s fiancé, Steph  has the sort of unwavering smile that the Walmart logo would be jealous of. She is smart and deft, while still having the preen naiveté of a precocious child. They are a decided match, despite Steph being much more socially copacetic than her grizzly-beau.

Eventually, at the behest of his fiancé, Sam’s brother, Tom (Ben York Jones) gets brought into the equation, and a dust-up, not unlike two bucking chalkboard erasers, clouds up the air before the wedding. Steph wants the two siblings to reconnect and, though nearly impossible, molt their differences.

Tom is the antithesis of Sam, from his inability to grow a full beard, to his canopy of dowdily-cut hair. While Sam is always confident, Tom seems forever uncertain, with his mouth always ajar, pursed in a sort of inquisitive question mark. The two brothers have locked horns before, we are told, though its not explained why. The fuzzy-narrative lets the viewer pick the side of either brother, in the beginning, while eventually peeling away the layers of emotional bandages.

Before the wedding commences, Sam decides to put aside the differences with his brother. The unlikely duo end up going on a makeshift road-trip to find Mary Barger, Tom’s fifth-grade crush. Barger’s name is like a figurehead on the bow of a sailing ship, a dangling carrot on the hood of the brothers’ car to lead this journey. En route to finding this person from Tom’s past, the two brothers manage to agitate each other, consume copious amounts of restaurant food, and get into problematic situations. There is definitely venom in the wheel of this car.

To explain anything much more would ruin the quiet humor and the pulsating dialogue. I do want to mention that the score, conducted by San Diego native Goddamn Electric Bill, is feverishly amazing. The music bubbles and pops, blips and bounces as it kneads the feelings of the characters. Because it is electronic, there is a strand of melancholic whimsy that this score provides; it is, with all of its muted hums, something that the mew of a guitar could not replicate.

“Douchebag” is one of my favorite films of the year. Finally, a road-trip worth taking.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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