' ' Cinema Romantico: The Open Road (Or: Justin Timberlake Might Be A Method Actor)

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Open Road (Or: Justin Timberlake Might Be A Method Actor)

You can punch the road movie and kick it and stab it and throw a grenade on it and trample it with a pack of mules but it's not going away. "The Open Road" (2009) was written and directed by Michael Meredith but it is entirely reliant on its actors as it sends them forth on a road trip from Texas to Ohio with many stops along the way to muse at gas pumps and have verbal spats while they wait for passing trains and whittle away time at little motels. The only difference from the road movies of yore is the characters cruise the highways and byways in a Hummer rather than a convertible.

Carlton Garrett (Justin Timberlake) is a minor league baseball player in Corpus Christi mired in a slump. But things get worse when his mother (Mary Steenburgen) is taken to the hospital, needing heart surgery for which she will not sign the waiver....unless Carlton tracks down his long-gone father, ex major league baseball star Kyle Garrett (Jeff Bridges), and brings him home. And Carlton, needing support, drags along his on-again, off-again sort-of girlfriend Lucy (Kate Mara) to Ohio where Kyle is signing autographs, intending to get the old man home by plane. But through a fortuitous (or is it?) circumstance, plane turns into Hummer and to The Open Road they go where fences may or may not be mended.

Carlton and Kyle try to repair their fractured relationship and Lucy will reveal that her current boyfriend has proposed to her and Carlton will reveal he doesn't really want to be a baseball player but a writer instead and Kyle will drink too much and end up in a hospital and run away to a hotel where Lyle Lovett tends bar and make things too difficult for everyone involved while Carlton makes amends with Lucy and then screws them up and then makes them again and then screws them up again and over the river and through the wood to Carlton's mother's hospital we go.

The plotting is rather predictable, sure, but that can be redeemed with turbo-charged performances except Justin Timberlake, a pop music star who apparently yearns to leave all that behind for an acting career, cannot come close to matching the unforced quirks of Jeff Bridges. In "The Open Road" Timberlake resembles a lone goose feather being used as a paperweight for the latest James Ellroy manuscript and Bridges, even in a broad, schlocky role, is the gargantuan gust of wind blowing him away, far, far away.

There is only a single occassion during the film when Timberlake rises to the challenge and manages authenticity and it is a scene outside a hotel room with Lucy where he tells her what an "idiot" he has been. It is the only moment when you cannot tell he is reading lines of dialogue and trying really, really hard to nail those lines of dialogue and where his "uhs" and "ums" don't feel contrived. It is the only moment where you feel as if his character might actually have existed before the start of this movie. And it brings me to my main point.

Don't you imagine the real life Justin Timberlake had this conversation with Jessica Biel? Wasn't there likely a moment or two in their relationship where he neglected her and then realized "Holy crap, I just neglected her?" and then had to recant and admit what an idiot he had been? You can see this happening, right? Now consider his role in "The Social Network" as the real life Sean Parker, a role in which, for the most part, he was quite good. But why was he good? Let's look at what he was asked to do. He was asked to sleep with a Stanford co-ed he doesn't know and he was asked to lord over people with his charm at trendy restaurants and boppin' night clubs and generally be a kind of pretenious a--hole. Right? Don't you just assume the real Justin Timberlake has slept with Stanford co-eds he doesn't know and lorded over people with his charm at trendy restaurants and boppin' night clubs and generally been kind of a pretentious a--hole? This is Lee Strasberg, baby, through and through, even if ol' J.T. doesn't know who that is. "Actors draw upon their own emotions and memories in their portrayals."

If he has life experience on which to draw, he's gold. If not, well, Justin Timberlake the thespian is kinda like Jerry O'Keefe the pop star.


Wretched Genius said...

In fairness, the real life Timberlake neglected Biel in favor of Olivia Munn, a move that has my full support.

Nick Prigge said...

Did he really? Boy, it must suck to be Justin Timberlake.

My Other Brother Daryl said...

You can say a lot of things about a lot of people, sir, but if you ever disparage the band 2ge+her again, we will have a serious problem.

Nick Prigge said...

Ouch. I thought you would have just been pleased someone on the interweb actually MADE a 2ge+her reference.