Best Movies by Farr: On the Road

January 26, 2010 | John Farr

There are tons of road trip films out there; here are three you might have missed.

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)


John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a successful director of Hollywood fluff who decides he wants to make a serious picture about “real world” suffering. Disguising himself as a tramp, the earnest but naive Sullivan hits the road with a ridiculous entourage provided by his cynical studio bosses. Eventually, he meets a down-on-her-luck actress (Veronica Lake) and learns the hard way how poverty dampens, but doesn’t extinguish, the human spirit.


Widely considered the greatest of Sturges’s classic 1940s films, “Sullivan’s Travels” is a stunning hybrid, blending giddy slapstick and razor-sharp humor with grim, unblinking social realism. McCrea and Lake make a fun pair, comically and romantically, while Robert Greig is a hoot as Sullivan’s droll butler. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Sturges concocting this incisively scripted, beautifully directed Hollywood satire, which ultimately has a lot to say about the restorative power of laughter.

Midnight Run (1988)


Modern-day bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert DeNiro) has a colorful career, but nothing could prepare him for Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin), a mob accountant on the lam. It seems Jonathan embezzled a bundle from his crooked bosses, gave the money to charity, then managed to jump bail. Jack first embarasses the authorities by succeeding where they’ve failed: he nabs Jonathan. Now he’ll be amply compensated if he can get Jonathan from the east to the west coast in one piece. But given the long list of neuroses afflicting Jonathan, and with both the FBI and the mafia interested in meeting the sensitive money-man en-route, Jack will have to earn every penny.


“Run” achieves ideal balance between comedy and action, creating pure, adrenalized entertainment. DeNiro and Grodin project surprisingly strong chemistry as polar opposites thrown together by fate. Their inspired interaction elevates the movie well above the standard “buddy” picture. Joe Pantoliano stands out as Jack’s nervous boss. Fast moving, cross-country fun.

Transamerica (2005)


Just a week before pre-operative transsexual Bree Osbourne (Felicity Huffman), formerly Stanley, is about go under the knife to complete her male-to-female transformation, she learns that she has a 17-year-old son named Toby (Kevin Zegers), who’s in trouble with the law. Encouraged by her therapist, Margaret (Elizabeth Peña), to come to grips with her past, Bree bails Toby out of jail and takes him on a cross-country road trip to Los Angeles.


Expertly handled by first-time director Tucker, this funny, touching film belongs to a tradition of beautifully observed movies about nontraditional American families. Huffman is riveting to watch, especially in the scenes with her disapproving mother, Elizabeth (Fionnula Flanagan). But it is her rapport with Zegers, perfect as the troubled, miserable Toby, that gives the film its heart and soul, especially as he believes Bree is a goody-goody church type-not his father. Their trip-so often the arc of growth in great road films-is mutually nourishing and eye-opening. Settle in with Transamerica for a frank, heartfelt outing.

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