Top Ten Best Road Trip Comedies!
With Thanksgiving in the rear-view, many in our audience probably spent most of their holiday on that great American institution: The Interstate Highway. Very few traditions are more proudly felt than American’s obsession with automobiles, and the long, boring, family-shattering trips we take in them. Like all of life’s unavoidable horrors, Hollywood has seen fit to grace us with fantastic comedies about traversing the country, confined to thoroughly suspect vehicles. Here we document the ten finest, so you can queue them up on the viewing device of your choice the next time little Timmy asks “are we there yet?”
10. Dutch (1991)
Ed O’Neil (Al Bundy, to most people) stars in this slobs versus snobs road trip film that manages to be both crass and touching. Dutch (O’Neil) is a work-a-day Joe, dating above his pay grade. Despite his embarrassing lack of social skills, he has a great relationship going with Natalie, a divorcee who’s rich ex-husband and snotty young child are a constant emotional drain. Hoping to be the knight in shining armor, Dutch agrees to drive her son, Doyle, from a swanky private academy in Georgia back home to Chicago, after her asshole ex cancels Thanksgiving plans in favor of jetting off to London. Unfortunately, Dutch is in way over his head, as Doyle not only blames his mother for the family break-up, but is just as privileged and entitled as his dad. He greets Dutch with a well placed BB Gun shot to the dick, and it is all downhill for the pair from there.
Like all great road trip movies, the duo face every ridiculous set back the script-writers could think of: car troubles, police troubles, and even being robbed by a pair of call girls who pick them up while hitchhiking. While Doyle is the obvious heel in the group, Dutch is certainly no saint, and the escalating “pranks” the two put each other through are not only entertaining, they also manage to endear both characters to the audience. Instead of straight up class warfare, you end up rooting for both, hoping they can somehow muddle through increasingly crappy circumstances. And in the end, Dutch manages to reunite his patchwork family, beat up Natlie’s ex-husband, and shoot that little shit Doyle in the butt with a BB gun. That, friends, is how you make a memorable road trip movie.
9. Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Before Harry met Lloyd, and before the series became even Dumberer, Jim Carry and Jeff Daniels made one hell of a road trip movie as America’s favorite idiots. Add in a cameo by Cam Neely, and this is definitely a movie snow-bound New Englanders can get behind.
Harry and Lloyd are morons, each failing spectacularly at every task they attempt. Harry manages to torpedo his job as a dog groomer on the same day Lloyd, a chauffeur, manages to accidentally grab a briefcase of cash meant for kidnappers, after his beautiful fare, Lauren Holly, leaves it purposefully in the airport. Out of cash and options, the two decide to cross the country to Aspen, hoping to return the case, and for Lloyd, win the heart of Holly. Things get hairy when the two kidnappers are on their trail.
If you lived through the 90’s, you know Carry’s putty-face antics…but here he is perfect. The humor is gross-out before that became the only way to make a comedy (looking at you, American Pie series…) Daniels and Carry play off of each other like consummate pros, and manage to hijack the comedy journey genre where one person is usually the straight man and the other is the imbecile, by axing the straight man altogether: you have a fool alongside an even bigger fool, and at any given moment the roles switch. It works. Today it seems like a given that you can make a film with two comedians trying to out spastic each other, but Dumb and Dumber is the film that made the formula viable.
8. Sesame Street Presents: Follow that Bird (1985)
The Big Bird movie. Yup.
This foray onto the big screen for Big Bird is a solid road film, with our fluffy yellow protagonist out to find his home. Taken away from his friends on Sesame Street, Big Bird is housed with a more “appropriate” family of Dodo birds. Miserable, the bird flies the coop (sorry, had to do it…) When a newscast (featuring a cameo by Chevy Chase) announces the run-away avian situation, all of Sesame Street is geared up to follow that bird. Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, Grover, and even Bert and Ernie in a Bi-Plane (see, internet, they’re not gay…they’re clearly bi…) set out to rescue their friend. Along the way music and comedy ensues, and we all learn a little something about ourselves. Oh, and the Count Von Count gets to count all of the screen credits. He loves to count! *thunder* ah ha ha ha!
This was Jim Henson’s last film before his untimely passing. The man was a genius and humanitarian, and he managed to make a film with as much heart as his own. With great cameos by Sandra Bernhard, Chevy Chase, and John Candy, this movie is great fun.
7. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
Profanity laced, in-joke laden, New Jersey-lovin’, Jay and Silent Bob go national. With film rights from their pot addled adventures up for grabs, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) hitchhike, spelunk, and slouch against various quick mart walls all across the country, trying to thwart the big Hollywood remake of their life story…and in the process screw themselves out of a fat movie check. Seems like a sound strategy.
Less a journey of self discovery and more a journey of discovering who still owed director Kevin Smith a favor which he could cash in for a sweet cameo appearance (and that list is LONG: Jason Lee, Will Ferrel, Chris Rock, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, both dudes from Clerks, Eliza Dushku and Shannon Elizabeth before both actresses disappeared, Jon Stewart, and one Han Solo away from the Star Wars trifecta- Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. Not to mention Morris Day and the motherfuckin’ Time) this film is long on laughs and special appearances, with more star power per mile traveled than any other road trip movie. And in the end you get to watch people fight with bong-lightsabers. Bake some brownies and go see it, OK?
6. The Wizard (1989)
Video game’s weren’t always big money. Sure, Korea has been giving away college scholarships for Star Craft since before the Industrial Revolution (and playing those cheap shit Protoss…) but for most of the history of industry, games were scorned as literally kid stuff, and not just silly, but anti-social. Nintendo wasn’t going to take this crap lying down, and The Wizard was born: a feature length flick that aimed to do for video games what Rain Man had done for black jack (released just a year later, this movie is suspiciously just a re-shoot of Rain Man where Dustin Hoffman is insanely good at Mario Brothers instead of 21.)
Fred Savage has a problem: his family has been torn apart by the drowning of his younger sister, and his youngest brother, Jimmy, has suffered from a nascent form of autism ever since. Committed to a mental institution, Jimmy is getting progressively worse, so like all big bro’s, Savage does the responsible thing and busts him out. Together they head to California, since that is the only word Jimmy can say. They cross the country, getting into bigger messes along the way, trying to avoid the bounty hunter hired by their parents (the FUCK?! What parents hire bounty hunters for a seven year old? Shit, my parents would have just left my comic books out in the rain and I would have returned out of instinctual self-preservation!) They hook up with Haley, a fellow run-away who recognizes Jimmy’s talent at video games and suggest they head to Reno in order to score 50,000 in cash from the largest game tournament ever. Cue training montages where Jimmy plays every hot Nintendo game on the market. Eventually they overcome the power-glove wielding douche-nozzle Lucas, and wind up playing for the big money in Reno.
Savaged by critics (huh, get it?…moving on) as nothing but a feature length commercial, this film was actually a love letter to kids raised by Nintendo. We understand, the movie says, your hobby of choice is no worse (or better) than many other games of skill and chance that routinely get crapped on by society. Like all interests, it can make you a dweeb, or it can make you a jerk, or it can unite you with the best friends you will ever make. As a teen who made life-long bonds with friends over games of Contra and Twisted Metal, I have to say this film struck a chord.
But the power glove sucked, people.
5. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The Coen Brothers give a tip of the hat to Homer’s Odyssey in this historical road trip set in the American Depression of the 1930’s. Three men working on a chain gang in Mississippi manage to break loose under the leadership of Ulysses (George Clooney) and attempt to cross the country in search of a fortune that was set aside before the men were incarcerated. The only problem is that the hiding spot for the loot is about to become the bottom of a man-made lake in three days time. In addition to various representatives of the law, the men have run ins with crooked politicians, seductive temptresses, and the Klu Klux Klan. Along the way, they also manage to become famous on the radio for their rendition of ” A Man of Constant Sorrow.”
The Coens have practically mastered the art of throwing average people into eccentric situations, and O Brother is no exception. What has made them such spectacularly gifted film makers, though, is the ability to make their settings into characters as important as the actors and actresses who populate their films. Fargo wouldn’t be Fargo if it was set in Detroit. O Brother‘s setting is gorgeous and tawdry, parochial and exotic, and just plain fascinating. If the movie didn’t have such amazing performances (though it does) and so many layers of subtext, it would still be well worth the experience just to see the 1930’s given so much life and poignancy.
4. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
I’ve talked at length about how great this film is. Given the recent re-release of a digitally restored Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and imminent news about a new Pee Wee Herman project, why not do yourself a favor and catch up on this amazing road trip? Tell em Large Marge sent you!
3. The Muppet Movie (1979)
If you can listen to Kermit the Frog sing “The Rainbow Connection” without tearing up, I worry for your soul. Our second great road trip brought to you by Frank Oz and Jim Henson, this adventure begins in the Louisiana bayou, with Kermit plucking away on his banjo, dreaming of one day making the big time. After encouragement from a local talent scout (Dom DeLuise) he sets out on the road and encounters other show biz hopefuls in the struggling comedian, Fozzy Bear, and dare-devil wannabe, Gonzo “The Great Gonzini”, and eventually the giant ham, Miss Piggy (ha ha ha…oh.) The group gains allies along the way, but also draws the ire of an irate businessman who owns a chain of french-fried frog leg stands, and who will stop at nothing to get Kermit to star in his commercial…and perhaps his menu.
The list of amazing comedians and famous folk stuffing this zany adventure makes Kevin Smith green with envy (ha ha ha…oh, again.) Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Orson Welles, Richard Pryor, and Mel Brooks all take their licks in this film. The musical numbers are all roundly excellent, and everyone’s favorite Muppets characters gets a chance to shine. If you enjoyed the Muppets return to fame these last few years, you owe yourself a visit to the film that started it all. If you watch very closely, the whole plot of the 2011 Muppet Movie is set up by this film from the 1970’s. Talk about dedication!
2. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Honey Boo Boo meets Clark Griswald (…so yeah, National Lampoon’s Vacation series is not on this list…because fuck Chevy Chase) in this quirky and endearing cross country trek. Olive, the youngest daughter of a very tenuous family, has improbably landed an invite to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant and is desperate to attend. Egged on by a heroin-abusing, foul mouthed WW2 vet grandfather (Alan Arkin,) eventually Olive overcomes the reservations of her heroically even-tempered mother (Toni Collette, who should have received a best actress nod by all reasonable standards.) Together with a suicidal and academically effete uncle (Steve Carell,) a basket case motivational speaker father (Greg Kinnear, once again quietly adding another film to his lifetime achievement Oscar,) and a moody brother engaged in a vow of silence, the family sets off for California in a conversion van that has trouble rolling down the driveway.
In a road trip movie, you expect all manner of shit-storms to force the characters to grow and adapt. The genius of Little Miss Sunshine is that the characters themselves are almost always the cause of, and solution to, all of the problems that they face. You don’t need zany cops and maniacal motorists harrying a family this plagued by personal demons. The transformation of characters -not despite, but because of their failings- recalls such wonderful films as The Royal Tenenbaums and even One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In between the cerebral struggling of the main characters, you have great comedy and outrageous musical numbers. And no Chevy Chase. So three times a winner.
1. Plains, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
This may be the funniest movie John Candy ever made (I would accept Uncle Buck as a strong candidate for first.) This may be the funniest movie Steve Martin has ever made (I would accept The Jerk as a strong candidate for first.) This movie is a gift from the comedy gods, akin to Ghostbusters, for the absolute best comedy team-up ever made.
This road trip movie is the Ur road trip movie, encompassing all of the best traits of the previous nine: It is a slobs versus snobs film, with Candy playing a sleazy but honest salesman and Martin playing a high priced businessman. It manages to effortlessly switch the role of straight man between the two…often Candy plays the fool, but Martin is just as often the butt of the joke. It has a plethora of talent, both as main stars and in cameo appearances. The drama is mainly provided as the personal failings of the protagonists, instead of deus-ex-stulte, comedy arriving from the fools chasing them. And it is full of Muppets*
*There are actually no Muppets in this film, but screw you, they both appeared as extras in the previous Muppet films and this is my list, so there*
John Hughes has made more comedy gems than you can remember. If I made a top ten list of his movies, it would simply look like a list of movies everyone on Earth loves. This is probably his best film. The comedy is beyond reproach. His script, two lost souls trying to make it home for the holidays, is about as timeless as a Greek tragedy. His two leads are possibly the two funniest human beings to ever exist. Steve Martin and John Candy have the kind of chemistry on screen that should have resulted in them making buddy movies until the end of time. John Candy was the type of comedian that made you want to live your life better, to squeeze every ounce of meaning out of it before the big curtain call. There ought to be a god damn moment of silence every Thanksgiving when this movie comes on, and you realize that comedy can move you to tears. If I have to watch the final scene of this film for eternity when I die, where the two characters reconcile after two hours of hating each other, I would consider that about the best conception of heaven my soul can accept. This movie is perfect in every way. Watch it.