Sundance review: Jason Mantzoukas is more than comic relief in The Long Dumb Road

Jason Mantzoukas and Tony Revolori in The Long Dumb Road

The Long Dumb Road is the long awaited starring role for Jason Mantzoukas, by me at least. Mantzoukas totally delivers as a compelling leading man with heart and tough love.

Nat (Tony Revolori) is driving from Texas to Los Angeles for college. His car breaks down and Richard (Mantzoukas) is able to fix it, so Nat gives Richard a ride. On the road, Richard teaches Nat a thing or two about life and street smarts.

This is a coming of age story for Nat to break out of his sheltered childhood. What I love about Richard is he’s not a go with the flow type. Since it’s a road movie, more things go wrong, but Richard isn’t the stereotypical Hollywood free spirit.

A Hollywood movie character would say “abandon all your plans” and coincidence would have everything work out for Nat. Richard’s just a worst case scenario guy. The worst that could happen here is something we can still deal with so don’t freak out.

Nat and Richard meet different people along the way and Richard’s interactions with them reveal he’s the one who’s too emotional. He’s too volatile, but he’s innately protective of Nat so that forgives a lot.

Tony Revolori and Jason Mantzoukas in The Long Dumb Road

We can have compassion for Richard as much as we understand how he pushes people away. In fact, some of his shenanigans would be considered endearing in a Hollywood movie. The Long Dumb Road writer/director Hannah Fidell says, “No, in real life people don’t do that.”

It’s Nat’s coming of age, and Revolori captures the essence of a teenager discovering for the first time that the rest of the world doesn’t operate the way your parents’ house did. We only even saw his parents sending him off in the opening scene, but we can tell.

I guess we know Nat will be okay. He’ll make it to college and get on with his life. It’s Richard we’re worried about. He’s on the other side of these experiences and doesn’t seem able to move forward. It’s heartbreaking, and Mantzoukas makes it so.

Since it’s an indie movie, this isn’t as elaborate a road movie as a studio comedy would be. The script makes the most of the kind of real encounters they might have and crafts great roles for supporting cast Grace Gummer, Taissa Farmiga, Casey Wilson and Ron Livingston. Mantzoukas and Revolori have great chemistry to sustain this for 90 minutes.

The Long Dumb Road premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, January 26.

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