Shelbourne Hotel Memories by Way of a…
“The Horseshoe Bar is where women with a past go to meet men with no future…”
—-Dublin Wisdom c. ‘90s.
Two long-time friends, thirty-somethings who have grown apart due to the usual demands that Life makes on us, decide to take a road trip to see if they can fall into one of the rambling, but deep and meaningful, conversations of their youth. And if ‘deep in meaningful’ means anything, then in my experience it means that they were drunk when they had them.
Neither is exactly where he wants to be in his life, although just as equally neither will admit it. Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) had wanted to travel and be in a band. Instead he’s married to a woman that he loves but who doesn’t turn him on anymore– and he has a kid; Carter talks it up as if he is a free spirit, when in fact he’s an overweight guy who is living in his car and still dreaming of writing the Great American Novel. Carter is also a bit of an idiot. In the middle of a desert side road to nowhere he decides to interfere with the wiring of his already clapped-out truck (in order that they connect more, man) and of course when he can’t get the thing started again the two find themselves facing a very real danger of dying.
This and the bickering both start within the first ten minutes of Scenic Route; and since I didn’t particularly care for either character that was almost it for me. Then something that Mitchell said hit me like a rock, making me watch for the duration. (And I’m glad I did.)
“There’s this motivational poster in my office with this eagle soaring out of the sky and shit. I’ll spend some days just staring at it, trying to decide whether I’m suicidal or homicidal that day.”
Boy, did that bring back memories or what. In another life I spent too many years working in a job that I hated. I mean, I really hated it. OK, if you must know it was in the Horseshoe Bar of Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel. (This was before it was under the current ownership by the way.) I spent most days wondering if I was suicidal or homicidal. And in fairness I was usually homicidal: an awful lot of customers died horrible deaths in my imagination.
It was back then (could still be for all I know) the kind of bar that attracted the guys who no longer boast that they created the Celtic Tiger. Sure, there were some really decent customers—people that I loved to see walking in—but when I heard Mitchell say those words it was in the main the assholes I thought of: the Captains of Industry; the preening, self styled buccaneers who would go on to be NAMAd; the overweight speculator who would be planked at the counter bellowing into his phone that he had just been to Le Mere Zou (the restaurant next door) for some lobster and that he would be travelling off to Palm Springs next week. He was one of many who seemed to believe that unless he had made sure that everyone in hearing distance could be privy to what he was doing then he hadn’t really done it; and of course he would be totally oblivious of the scowls he was getting from our more balanced customers.
Year in and year out I hated it. Thankfully most of the people I worked with were fine and that helped; but my life was a mess, I was always drinking too much and living in a series of endless crises when I was off duty. And there was no need for it. I was financially OK and any relationships I had were with women who were independent. It was pure and simple cowardice that kept me there. I had the weekly wage and was scared of my life to lose that comfort. I talked tough, but underneath I was just plain embarrassingly frightened.
In the years since I grew a pair and got up the courage to leave I’ve seen some bad times; but never once have I regretted making the decision to go. I’ve regretted staying so long, but never leaving.
All of this went through my head as I listened to Mitchell go on to justify why he had to stay in a job he loathed. (Justifying your reasons through lying to yourself was something I became familiar with.) It gives Carter a chance to have a self-righteous go at him, but the truth is that he’s out of line. As Mitchell tells him:
“Just because you took some conversation we had ten years ago over beer and macaroni and decided to make it your religion, doesn’t mean the rest of the world gives a shit.”
First time directors Kevin and Michael Goetz make the most of a film where there are essentially only two characters—three, if you count the desert in which they are stranded. They make good use of that too. We get a real sense of the vastness and emptiness of it, as well as the hell-hot days alternated with freezing-cold nights.
At first I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a black comedy or psychological drama, something that makes sense when you see that the screenplay is by Kyle Killen. Killen is the guy who penned Jodie Foster’s excellent The Beaver with Mel Gibson. Although Scenic Route isn’t as good as that film it still has the ability to throw the viewer. Had it simply stayed with the two men bickering (whilst also trying to survive) it would have gotten old very fast. However, there is an extraordinarily honest section around the middle where Mitchell tells his companion about his one-time affair. An awful lot of men who have gone through mid-life crises (I’ve had several, heh heh) will recognise what he is talking about. And at the end of his painful admission to an affair even though he loves his wife, he adds:
“That’s the problem with marriage. You can’t do it without learning to lie to the one person you’re supposed to trust.”
Whilst finally admitting his own failings, Carter also painfully admits:
“Daily failing is a miserable business.”
However, it’s a brief lull for the two and soon the desperation of their position has them reverting to fearful and primitive behaviour, all the while against the backdrop of an indifferent desert landscape.
I liked Scenic Route. I also liked the last ten minutes, which a lot of people are going to have a problem with. It was quite unexpected but smart enough to address any doubts that the viewer is feeling. In fact it is even a little sly in second-guessing them. I’ll leave it at that; and sorry for going off on a tangent. I guess I was just dwelling on the long scenic route that I’ve taken to where—for good or bad—I now find myself, in my own inner desert.