The Short History of the Long Road (2020) ★★ 1/2
Writer & Director: Ani Simon-Kennedy
This gentle indie about a father and a daughter who live on the road had a lot of warmth and many likable performances, but ultimately felt too pat as it shied away from the more painful aspects of its story. The ending, in particular, felt like more of an Instagram moment than a resolution. Still, I enjoyed the journey with its glimpses into the lives of people who exist on the edges of mainstream society.
As the title suggests, this is a road trip movie that follows a teenager, Nola, and her father, Clint, as they drive, with joyful aimlessness, around the country. Nola has never been to public school or lived in a house; instead she and her father occupy a large van, making do with public restrooms and showers, and getting by on Clint’s cash-only handyman gigs. Clint calls it the “low-budget, high experience model of living.” He believes they are more free than other people and has pretty much convinced Nola of this philosophy of living, although she’s beginning to question it in the movie’s opening scenes. Nola wants to know more about her past, and is frustrated by her father’s vague answers on the subject of her mother; she’s also tired of doing everything according to her father’s idiosyncratic habits. It’s typical teenage stuff, heightened by her extreme upbringing. When tragedy strikes, Nola finds herself completely alone in the world, and is forced to put her father’s lessons of survival to the test.
One thing I really liked about this movie is that Nola is not attacked or sexually assaulted when she is alone on the road. She is able to take care of herself and navigate potentially dangerous situations. That’s not to say there is no suspense or that you don’t worry about her; it’s just refreshing that the story doesn’t revolve abuse or trauma. At the same time, the film doesn’t go deeply enough into the pain that Nola is carrying. When Nola goes on a search for her mother, the means and result of the search felt too easy, and the choices she made didn’t seem realistic, given her loneliness and pinched circumstances.
In general, there was something fantastical about Nola’s ability to escape the notice of social services or even extended family members. When compared to a movie like Leave No Trace, which also follows a father and daughter who live on the margins, it felt very light on specifics. There are moments in both films when the girls encounter the institutions the fathers are hell-bent on evading; in Leave No Trace, these are detailed scenes that help to give a more objective look at the father and daughter’s psychological states, and to place the story in a particular time and place, but in The Short History of The Long Road, all interactions with the outside world are glossed over. Nola sometimes seems to exist in a gauzy netherworld of good luck and self-sufficiency. There were times when I enjoyed that fantasy — like when Nola showers in the irrigation system of a large, empty field — but by the end of the film, I was frustrated by how little I really knew of Nola or her father.