SXSW Review: Drunk Bus
Drunk Bus is the rare movie that shines brightest when it possesses the least self-awareness. A patchwork comedy-drama-cult classic that pinwheels from buddy road-trip to stoner comedy to long night’s descent into madness, Brandon LaGanke and John Carlucci’s feature debut stuffs a seemingly unending feast of bits, wit, grit–and, yes, shit–into 100 minutes. It’s ultimately funny when it isn’t trying to make you laugh, thoughtful when it isn’t shooting for clever commentary, and heartfelt in the small moments in between.
A recent graduate of Kent Institute of Technology and recipient of a harsh dumping from his long-term girlfriend, Michael (Charlie Tahan) still drives the titular campus “drunk bus.” Michael spends his nights with screaming frat bros, puking partiers, and a reluctant, wheelchair-confined passenger called Fuck You Bob - named after the only phrase he ever utters. When one such bro socks him in the eye, Michael receives security protection from Pineapple: a large Samoan with a face covered in sacred tattoos.
The plot of Drunk Bus is appropriately hazy–it certainly couldn’t walk a straight line while putting its finger on its nose–but the film excels in its commitment to the people on the fringes of society. Though it can occasionally veer into caricature - especially in brief cameos from “Night Terror” Tara and drug dealing hoarder Devo Ted - it is never mocking. And it invests its main characters with the depths of those just trying to survive–especially Pineapple, Michael, and Drunk Bob. As Pineapple notes, “some of us lie, some of us say fuck you to everybody, and some of us drive around in circles.” But all of them have humanity.
If Drunk Bus is about anything more than that, it’s breaking routine. Michael’s ex-girlfriend ruthlessly, matter-of-factly tells him that “you’re terrified of the unknown and you can’t make a decision.” It’s not far off, and it’s a message that eventually hits home. Unfortunately it’s accompanied along the way with a series of trite jokes and stale commentary. From one character reaching sex offender status by peeing outside a Chuck E. Cheese to a fake suicide and a forced coming out played for laughs, the overt attempts to inject college-level humor range from tedious to cringeworthy.
That’s not to say Drunk Bus isn’t funny or poignant–it is, but mostly when it isn’t trying to be. Offhand lines from Pineapple had me rolling, and a late, great pronouncement that “he was an asshole, but he was an artist too” is the perfectly irreverent epitaph that the movie and its characters deserve. LaGanke and Carlucci nimbly meld 80s coming-of-age with a Bringing Out the Dead-esque milieu, showing flashes of promising directorial talent. It may take one or two wobbly wrong turns, but Drunk Bus gets where it’s going–and you’ll certainly feel like you’ve made some friends along the way.